Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sallie Mae Receives Corporate Leadership Award

Apropos of nothing I grew up playing on the Ron Brown playground-we went to the same school in Manhattan. I thought Anya would probably post this:

In recognition of outstanding achievement in employee and community relations, Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez presented the Ron Brown Award for Corporate Leadership to Sallie Mae and Weyerhaeuser Company. The Ron Brown Award is sponsored and managed by The Conference Board, a global research and business membership organization. President Bill Clinton established this Presidential Award in honor of the late U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, who firmly believed that businesses do well by doing good. "Like Secretary Brown and other of my predecessors in office who traveled across this country and throughout the world, everywhere I go I see U.S. companies that are doing well and doing good," Gutierrez said. "They care about corporate success. They also care about people. They are invested in their employees, their neighborhoods and their communities. They see this investment as both a privilege and a responsibility that they accept and honor. Today we're delighted to celebrate and recognize two organizations for outstanding leadership in community and employee relations."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"Comeuppance is at hand"

That's the fate of the private loan companies as described by Barmak Nassirian, head of government relations at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers Barmak is the resident philosophe of the higher ed community and is renowned for, among other things, his amazing capacity for catchy quotes.

This particular quote hails from an LA Times article on Monday describing what new Congressional leadership means for private banks. The thesis has been repeated in a number of different sources (thought this may be the best article so far for its quotes from the lending industry and the Democrats)-but basically the Democrats believe that it's possible to more efficiently use higher education taxpayer dollars by cutting waste in the student loan programs and giving it to students.

The lenders are trying to make themselves look like victims-in part by playing revisionist history and claiming that banks, not students took serious cuts in last years reconciliation fight. That is not the case. We're going to have to make decisions in this country about whether we want our tax dollars going to Sallie Mae or to students....

To anyone who checks the blog regularly sorry for the absence-between the holiday and just a crush of work I've been tardy on this post.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Support for Cutting Student Loan Interest Rates [UPDATED]

From the Tennessean:

Resources are limited, and Congress must find responsible ways of managing the loan program. But if Congress wants to help American families in ways that strike directly at people's ability to make ends meet, it won't find many better places for that than in student financial assistance.
The article endorses the Congressional proposal to cut interest rates in half.

The Daily Tar Heel weighs in as well.

Building Student Leadership

Building progressive student leadership is a hot topic amongst some large funders and certainly amongst progressive groups. As someone who found political activism and engagement in college through a political group started by students I sometimes get the feeling that they miss the great organizations and models that already exist.

My thoughts are on this topic because I'm out in Portland, OR at the Northwest Student Leadership Conference, a great annual event put on by the Oregon Students Association-one of the nation's strongest and most effective state student advocates. (A couple years ago OSA ran a great campaign to freeze tuition featuring a giant freezer on the back of a truck that traveled around the state.) This weekend will see about 500 students mostly from around the Northwest (from as far east as Illinois) talking about organizing and advocating for a progressive student agenda.

I'm out here to run a training on Student Debt and Federal Student Aid. A quick perusal of the agenda finds great topics ranging from "How to Run for Student Government and Win" to "The Academic Bill of Rights--why it's really restrictions and what to do about it" to "Students as Consumers."

There is great work going on campuses and in states all across the country-but it always strikes me that there's particularly great progressive organizing in Oregon. Between OSA, OSPIRG and the Oregon Bus Project there are a set of great groups working to inspire, engage and train future young leaders and organizers.

A couple of resources for students around the country who want to be doing more to change the political environment:
Student Empowerment Training Project-works with Student Governments to make their campaigns more effective.
Center for Campus Free Speech-Works with students and faculty around academic freedom issues: Academic Bill of Rights, students rights to organize on campus, speech codes.
Student PIRGs-issue based campaign advocacy on topics from stopping global warming to addressing poverty in your campus community.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Big Education

With the results of the election last week speculating on what the Democrats will do starting in January is a full fledged, international industry. At stake in higher education are major issues such as: subsidies for private lenders, interest rate levels for students and parents, and federal grant aid.

Bethany McLean, Fortune editor-at-large, takes up the question of what will Democrats do in a new article. However, her speculation about what the Democrats will do takes a back seat to her outstanding analysis about the industry that has built up around higher ed, which she christens "Big Education."

In the corporate world, there's a short list of obvious suspects who may face tougher times under a Democratic Congress, including Big Pharma and Big Oil. Then there are the not-so-obvious suspects - like what might be called Big Education.

"Big Education" consists of the student loan and for-profit higher ed industries that have become big players through tried and true special interest tactics like massive campaign contributions and legions of former staffers as their lobbyists. Ms. McLean is also uniquely credible on the subject of corporate malfeasance, as she was the first reporter to write about Enron as financial miracle. She wrote a great piece on Sallie Mae last year.

I'm tempted to excerpt large pieces of the article but its worth everyone taking a look at it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Greetings from Thailand

Today I walked into a dusty old museum on the grounds of a centuries-old temple and monestary, one of over 300 here in the beautiful northern city of Chiang Mai. The museum keeper, an old man speaking broken English, asked me where I was from. "Am-ri-ka," i answered in my best farang English. "Oh!! I think I see on the TV that the Democrats won the day!" he answered with a broad smile.

Since as Luke notes, youth voter turnout grew on Tuesday compared to '02, and we went for Dems by something like 22 points ( I voted absentee, by the way) seems to me like the Democrats have some promises to keep...including cutting student loan interest rates in half (Nancy Pelosi promised in June--look it up) and increasing student aid. It is up to you to hold them to it. While they're at it, how about expanding access to loan forgiveness and income-contingent programs such as we see in every other developed country?

Youth Vote Turns Out

One of the stories that will likely come out in the coming days is how young voters turned out in Tuesday's midterm elections. In 2006, 10 million 18-29 year olds voted, up 2 million from 2002. The most compelling statistic (although the wonkiest) is that young voters increased their share of the electorate (from 11% in 2002 to 13% in 2006) even as their percentage of the population decreased. That means that even as a smaller piece of the population, young voters turned out in such increased numbers that it registered in the national numbers.

In a number of states across the country PIRG students tracked turnout at precincts that are heavily youth centered. We saw big increases in Columbus, OH, Boulder, CO and Storrs, CT compared to 2002.

The generation that is now coming of age politically is more engaged than Gen's X and Y, and are making politicians pay attention to them.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Election morning and I'm working with my colleagues on the State PIRGs New Voters Project calling media about youth GOTV efforts. PIRG students around the country will make 15,000 peer to peer contacts before the day is out.

Go vote!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Lender Campaign Contributions

Michael Dannenberg over at New America Foundation has new analysis about lender Nelnet's recent campaign contributions. According to the Department of Education's Inspector General Nelnet owes American taxpayers $278 million.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Young Voters

Two new articles on young voters: turnout and the issues that motivate them.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

NY Times Op-Ed

College Aid Cutbacks

Pell Grants are one of the largest sources of federal help for low-income college students, and the most valuable form of aid, because the money doesn’t have to be paid back. But the level of aid is increasingly out of sync with the level of need.

Last week, the College Board reported that Pell Grants fell last year, for the first time in six years. The cuts were about $100 a year per recipient, on average, and came on top of other miserliness. It’s been four years since Congress last increased the maximum annual Pell Grant — by a mere $50 — bringing the top grant for a student who has no parental support to $4,050. Meanwhile, college costs are up 35 percent from five years ago. Tuition and fees at a typical four-year public university are closing in on $6,000 this year.

The recent cutbacks were set in motion in 2004, when the Department of Education reduced the number of students deemed eligible for Pell Grants and the amounts they were qualified to receive. Pell Grants now cover about a third of the average costs at a four-year public school, compared with 42 percent five years ago.

Government loans also have not kept pace with rising costs. Subsidized loans accounted for only 55 percent of student borrowing in the most recent academic year, down from 69 percent 10 years earlier.

Bush administration officials have said repeatedly that the solution to the nation’s growing income inequality is more education. That’s a gross oversimplification, but if they really believed it — and cared about a remedy — would federal college aid be declining? As things stand, privatization of college lending is the administration goal that is being advanced. As government aid has declined, loans from banks and other private lenders have soared, climbing to 20 percent of all education borrowing last year, up from 12 percent five years earlier.

The result is towering debt. The same bachelor’s degree will cost a student borrower far more than a student who can afford to pay. That’s not a path to greater equality.

That about says it.

CA Innovation continued

I don't know how to start this post without a series of "c's" but I'm long overdue for a mention of a cool coalition around California community college education called the Campaign for College Opportunity. The project is the brainchild of two former higher education exec's and a California state senator and brings together the education, Latino, business and religious communities to advocate for a long term plan to California's higher education needs. The state will have to find about 600,000 new seats for students over the next 10 years, in excess of what can be provided by current institutions.

Their ultimate goal is to get a long term plan for funding college in California, including firm commitments from the state legislature to stable funds over the next decade. In addition they've done some fun things to engage the state including a scholarship contest for k-12 students called "save me a spot in college."