Friday, August 26, 2016

Illinois Pension Costs

Illinois pension fund lowers investment rate, hikes state payment

August 26, 2016

(Adds TRS statement, Rauner spokesman's comments)

CHICAGO, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Illinois faces a big increase in its future pension contributions after the state's largest public retirement system on Friday lowered its assumed investment rate of return to 7 percent from 7.5 percent.

The vote by the Teachers' Retirement System (TRS) board to lower the rate will trigger an increase in the state's fiscal 2018 payment, according to a statement from the retirement system. The board acted on recommendations from its actuarial consultant.

For fiscal 2017, the lowered rate would have increased the state's contribution to TRS by an estimated $421 million to $4.3 billion, the statement said.

Top officials in Republican Governor Bruce Rauner's administration had tried to head off the vote, warning of a "devastating impact" on the cash-strapped state's ability to fund social services and education.

An impasse between Rauner and Democrats who control the legislature left the nation's fifth-largest state without a full fiscal 2016 budget and only a six-month fiscal 2017 spending plan that is projected to result in a record-setting $7.8 billion funding gap.

"Illinois taxpayers including our social service providers and small business owners were just handed a bill for nearly a half-billion dollars," Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said in a statement.

He added that "questions remain about the legality of today's action," alluding to concerns raised by Rauner's deputy general counsel that TRS' revised meeting agenda containing the rate change as a voting measure did not comply with the state's open meetings act's 48-hour posting requirement.

TRS Executive Director Dick Ingram disputed there was any violation. He said the board has a fiduciary obligation to do "what is best for the financial sustainability" of the fund and that its action to lower the rate can be overridden by the Illinois Legislature.

"While some seem to think otherwise, nothing we are considering today is precipitate or rushed," Ingram told the board before the vote.

The rate cut was the third by TRS since 2012 and Ingram said he expected the board to consider yet another one in the spring.

Illinois' total fiscal 2017 pension payment to its five retirement systems was pegged at $7.9 billion, up from $7.617 billion in fiscal 2016 and $6.9 billion in fiscal 2015, according to a March bipartisan legislative commission report.

Illinois' unfunded pension liability stood at $111 billion at the end of fiscal 2015, with TRS accounting for more than 55 percent of that gap. The funded ratio was a weak 41.9 percent.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog and Dave McKinney; editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Matthew Lewis)

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Accreditation of for-profit colleges

ITT Tech Campuses Look Doomed After Education Department Sanctions

In what could spell the end for yet another for-profit giant, the U.S. Department of Education Thursday announced that the operator of ITT Technical Institute campuses can no longer enroll students who rely on federal loans to cover tuition.

The move comes after mounting concerns about the administrative capacity, finances, recruitment tactics, and graduation and job placement rates of ITT Educational Services, Inc., as well as the company's overall ability to serve its students

“Our responsibility is first and foremost to protect students and taxpayers,” Education Secretary John King said in a statement. “Looking at all of the risk factors, it’s clear that we need increased financial protection and that it simply would not be responsible or in the best interest of students to allow ITT to continue enrolling new students who rely on federal student aid funds.”

In addition to no longer enrolling students who rely on federal aid, ITT is also prohibited from awarding raises or bonuses or making retention and severance payments to its executives. It’s also required within 30 days to increase its existing surety from $94 million to $247 million – equating to 40 percent of all Title IV federal aid it received in 2015. The funds will be held by the Education Department and used for reimbursement should ITT close campuses.

In addition, ITT must develop what’s known as “teach-out agreements” with other colleges in order to provide students with opportunities to complete their studies should ITT cease operating.

“At this moment ITT poses a big risk to students and taxpayers,” Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell said on a Thursday press call. “Millions of dollars in taxpayer money and tens of thousands of students are in jeopardy.”

Since August 2014, ITT has been under what officials described as "intense" financial and operational oversight by the Education Department. The company operates over 130 campuses in 38 states, and approximately 45,000 students were enrolled in its programs last year.

The Education Department's latest action comes after the school’s accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, determined that ITT “is not in compliance, and is unlikely to become in compliance with" the organization's criteria.

Notably, the accrediting organization – the largest such overseer of for-profit schools – is on the chopping block itself. In June, a federal panel voted to shut it down – a move that if completed would eliminate access to federal financial aid for hundreds of schools that enroll around 800,000 students.

Under the announcement made Thursday regarding ITT, current students are allowed to remain enrolled in classes and can continue to seek federal aid, education officials said. Alternately, they can try to transfer existing credits to a new institution, or pause their studies.

If a school they're attending closes, officials said students may be eligible for a federal loan discharge.

“We don’t take these actions lightly,” King said on Thursday's press call. “It simply would not be responsible to allow ITT to continue enrolling new students who rely on federal financial aid. These actions are sweeping and will significantly alter ITT’s acting practices.”

In responding to a question from reporter about whether the intent of the Education Department’s decision was to shut down ITT – similar to how its regulation regarding Corinthian Colleges greatly contributed to that for-profit operator's demise – King demurred.

“Institutions do sometimes close and the department has in place procedures for managing school closures,” King said. “But these actions are designed simply to protect taxpayers and students.”

ITT did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication

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Regulators Vote to Shut Down Nation's Largest For-Profit Accrediting Agency

The vote came after widespread criticism that the agency had provided inadequate oversight.

By Lauren Camera | Education Reporter June 23, 2016, at 7:57 p.m.

In a huge victory for opponents of for-profit schools, a federal panel voted Thursday to shut down the largest accrediting agency of private sector colleges and universities amid intense criticism in recent years for loose oversight of educational institutions.

The 10-3 decision, handed down Thursday by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, effectively eliminates access to federal financial aid to hundreds of schools accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools that enroll nearly 800,000 students.

ACICS officials blasted the decision.

"For better or worse we have become the subject of intense political and public scrutiny and we believe many of the public comments directed to ACICS are not well founded," said Anthony Bieda, executive in charge at ACICS during his testimony.

Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, warned during testimony that the revocation of ACICS’ authority would amount to a collapse of post-secondary vocational training in the U.S.

In total, the Department of Education recognizes 37 accrediting agencies that act as gatekeepers to the federal student loan system. Those agencies review colleges based on a variety of issues, including academic quality, personnel, instructional resources and many others. Using that information, the agencies approve or deny schools access to federal financial aid benefits.

ACICS, which approves about 725 institutions and last year oversaw $3.3 billion in federal financial aid, has accredited schools including the now-shuttered Corinthian Colleges.

In fact, according to an analysis from the Center for American Progress, from 2010 to 2015, the ACICS in 90 instances approved and named schools to its honor roll around the same time they were under investigation. The companies that owned those schools, which took in more than $5.7 billion in federal funds over the past three years, represent 52 percent of all federal aid dollars received by ACICS-approved colleges during that period.

Last week the Department of Education issued a formal recommendation to eliminate ACICS altogether, outlining a 21-point list of outstanding issues that it charges the accreditor has yet to address.

The ruling is far from the final execution for the accrediting agency, which plans to appeal the decision, first to the secretary of education and then the federal courts.

Among other things, officials at the accrediting agency argued they have made a number of changes that speak to the agency’s commitment to fix past mistakes, including the creation of an ethics review board, assurances of greater accuracy regarding student achievement data and greater public disclosure.

In fact, on Wednesday, just a day before the federal accrediting agency handed down its death sentence, ACICS announced the formation of a “Special ‘Blue Ribbon’ Advisory Committee” that will conduct an in-depth examination of ACICS’ governance, standards, practices, operations, staffing, evaluator pool, support services and accreditation processes.

“ACICS is committed to enacting meaningful reforms that will demonstrate to our partners in federal and state government that we are turning over a new leaf,” Bieda said.

Those actions are too little, too late, many on the NACIQI panel underscored.

“I need to hear more than, ‘We’re creating a committee,’” said Simon Boehme, the student representative who graduated from Cornell University in 2014 and was appointed to the accrediting review board by the Education Department.

Revoking ACICS’ accrediting authority is just the latest event in a larger conversation on accreditation, for which there is broad agreement needs updating.

The Department of Education has called on accrediting agencies to beef up their review of colleges and universities, just as lawmakers have called on the department to step up its review of accreditors.

Undersecretary Ted Mitchell, the Education Department's point person for higher education, has said the department is hamstrung because it cannot strengthen the system without Congress updating the Higher Education Act, which lawmakers are working on but likely won't be able to pass until after the presidential election.

“The only way to ensure the system works – to truly give us assurance that institutions are serving students well – is to have an accreditation process that allows the flexibility for innovation and the rigor to hold institutions accountable,” Mitchell said during opening remarks Wednesday at the NACIQI panel. “And the only way to do that is to focus on outcomes.”

And that’s exactly what the Education Department has been trying to do around the edges.

In November, it announced plans to make public the standards that every accreditor uses when evaluating student outcomes and require accreditors to submit the letters they send colleges and universities when they're put on probation.

“When we see schools provide extremely poor outcomes for students – or even commit fraud – while maintaining accreditation, that is a black mark on the entire field,” Mitchell said. “The presence of poor players taints the reputation of all accreditors and raises questions about the value of accreditation as a whole – that should be as troubling to the accreditation community as it is to us.”

But critics argue that too often the administration’s focus on outcomes – both in the accreditation space and elsewhere in the higher education space – unfairly targets for-profit colleges and ignores similar intransigencies at other types of colleges and universities.

Case in point: A new report from Third Way, a nonpartisan policy think tank in Washington, D.C., shows that nearly half of students enrolled in four-year private, nonprofit colleges aren’t graduating. And many of those who do graduate aren’t earning sufficient incomes even years after completion and are unable to repay their loans.

To be sure, the NACIQI panelists, and even the representative from the Education Department, agreed that the steps ACICS outlined to fix its problems are good corrective actions. They also acknowledged that the accrediting agency has, to some extent, been held hostage by bad actors in the for-profit sector that wage legal battles against the accreditor every time it attempts to sanction them.

“I don’t want anyone to think that this is just an evil agency,” said Steve Porcelli, who presented the Education Department’s recommendation. “That’s not the case. It’s very complicated.”

But ultimately, the panelists decided, the totality and severity of past and ongoing issues outweighed the possibility of the accrediting agency re-establishing itself successfully.

As panelist Paul LeBlanc, the president of Southern New Hampshire University, asked: “Are we being asked to believe that the team that oversaw this systematic failure will be the team to turn it around?”

Lauren Camera Education Reporter

Lauren Camera is an education reporter at U.S. News & World Report. She’s covered education policy and politics for nearly a decade and has written for Education Week, The Hechinger Report, Congressional Quarterly, Roll Call, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. She was a 2013 Spencer Education Fellow at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, where she conducted a reporting project about the impact of the Obama administration’s competitive education grant, Race to the Top.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

NLRB rules that grad students are employees, opens door to unionization

In a major decision that opens the door for graduate students across the country to unionize, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that grad students who work as teaching and research assistants are employees covered by federal labor laws.

The 3-1 decision — which stems from a petition filed by a group of graduate students at Columbia University in New York who wished to join the United Auto Workers union — reverses a 2004 decision involving Rhode Island's Brown University that had held that grad students are not employees because they are primarily students.

The majority wrote that the Brown decision "deprived an entire category of workers of the protections of the (National Labor Relations) Act without a convincing justification."

The decision states: "The Board has the statutory authority to treat student assistants as statutory employees, where they perform work, at the direction of the university, for which they are compensated. Statutory coverage is permitted by virtue of an employment relationship; it is not foreclosed by the existence of some other, additional relationship that the Act does not reach."

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Jarid Funderburg appoint to RVC board

Rock Valley College Board of Trustees Fills Vacancy

Posted: Monday, August 15, 2016

Media Contact: RVC Public Relations, 815-921-4510

The Rock Valley College Board of Trustees this evening announced the appointment of Jarid Funderburg to the seat vacated by Frank Haney’s resignation, which was accepted by the board at its July 27, 2016, meeting.

Mr. Funderburg is the Executive Director of Growth Dimensions, a Boone County and Belvidere, Illinois economic development corporation.

Mr. Funderburg was sworn it at a special meeting of the Board of Trustees on August 15, 2016, to fill the unexpired term. The seat will be open for election along with two other expiring terms in April 2017.

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