Keeping Tabs on For-Profit Schools’ Federal Aid

For-profit colleges will likely be required to disclose information about their programs’ job placement rates, graduation rates and other statistics so the U.S. Department of Education can calculate graduates’ debt load and income, a New York Times article reports this week.

Ultimately that data could make a school ineligible for federal financial aid based on graduates’ debt in relation to their income if it doesn’t meet a certain ratio (which has not been finalized). The original idea was “cutting off federal aid to programs whose graduates could not repay their student loans in 10 years with 8% of the income,” the story notes.

Wondering what exactly constitutes a for-profit school? The proposed rule would affect the likes of Harrison College and ITT Technical Institute – both based in Indiana.

I wrote about this fast growing higher education sector in a March/April  BizVoice® story. Read about how for-profit schools don’t receive taxpayer dollars directly (like IU, Purdue and other public schools); instead they are large consumers of federal student aid. Nationally, for-profit schools received about one-fifth of federal financial aid each year.

It’s stats that like that have the Department of Education evaluating whether these same programs are a drain on federal aid while leaving graduates in low-paying jobs with no way to pay off the debt. The final rules are expected to be published in November and take effect in July 2011, the NYT reports.

While this regulation wouldn’t disqualify all for-profit schools from financial aid, I imagine such rules could continue to feed many perceptions about the industry. Read what leaders at Indiana for-profit schools have to say about how their programs are built around top-demand jobs in Indiana.

Deadlines and Developments are Part of the Business

In this era of Twitter, smartphones and cable news networks, the minute something happens we know about it. A lot has been said/written/tweeted/etc. about print media dying.

While that’s a debate for another day, I will say I experience a monthly euphoria when the latest copy of Vanity Fair (ahem, I mean Forbes) is waiting for me in the mailbox.

I don’t expect to the find the news of the day when I pick up a magazine. No, I am looking for those in-depth stories and images that are much more enjoyable on glossy pages than a retina-burning digital screen.

So, that brings us to my point … the latest issue of BizVoice. Just like other magazines, we work on a production schedule that makes breaking news nearly impossible (once again, not the role of magazines anyway).

While topics in the magazine are planned so they are relevant for when they are released, those pesky deadlines can make things complicated. Case in point:

  • January 26 – I sat down with Eileen O’Neill Odum, NiSource executive vice president and NIPSCO CEO, for a brief interview for the BizVoice “Getting to Know” feature.
  • Our conversation was then turned into a nearly two-page spread for the March/April issue, which was sent to the printer February 12 – two weeks before it’s distributed to readers.
  • February 18 – Odum announced she would resign her position at the end of the month to spend time with her family. 

What are the chances? I guess that’s part of the deadline business. Don’t write off the story though – Odum’s words remain relevant as she discusses the company and Northwest Indiana. Go ahead and get to know her. We wish Eileen all the best as she enjoys some valuable time with family.

I can’t help but wonder if there’s something in the Northwest Indiana water though. Vince Galbiati officially resigned his position as CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum the day after participating in a BizVoice roundtable discussion.

While we could have decided to leave him out of the story, you’ll find his perceptive comments are included (with a note acknowledging his resignation). You’ll also find several other stories in this issue highlighting Northwest Indiana. And just in case my theory on the water is correct, I’ll keep you posted on any other resignations.

Ivy Tech President Tom Snyder Discusses Your Tax Money at Work

For Tom Snyder’s Economic Club of Indiana speech Tuesday, it was largely a story of numbers (along with some video clips of Ivy Tech graduates telling their personal success stories).

Before going into the details of Ivy Tech’s growth, Snyder shared one statistic that affects all Indiana taxpayers – you are paying half of Ivy Tech students’ tuition. For that reason, Hoosiers need to know what’s happening with the community college, Snyder notes.

The school has seen an enrollment increase of more than 40,000 students since 2008. No longer can high school students decide between college and a high-paying factory job. Employers are calling for everyone to have some postsecondary education – whether it’s a four-year or two-year degree, Snyder states.

He offered this profile of the Ivy Tech student body:

  • Average age is 27
  • 25% are single mothers
  • 60% receive financial aid
  • 10,000 students are on food stamps
  • 25% transfer to a four-year school
  • 25,000 are enrolled at the Indianapolis campus (that’s more students than at Ball State University, Snyder asserts.)

Noting the high number of students who need remediation in math and English, Snyder turned to the audience to prove his point. Through an interactive demonstration, audience members took a five-question quiz based on math placement tests.

The audience used small remote control buzzers to answer questions such as: What is the smallest prime number? (Answer: 2) On most questions, about 60% or less answered correctly.

Snyder reminded the audience that while half of the tuition at Ivy Tech is covered by taxpayers, all of it is covered at the K-12 level. He shared his five steps to success in educating Indiana:

  1. Children are prepared for kindergarten
  2. Third grade students are reading at third grade level
  3. Students decide to go to college while in the eighth grade
  4. Students take math during their senior year of high school (helping prevent the need for remediation)
  5. Graduates continue on to earn a post K-12 credentials

Snyder concludes education is a shared responsibility; everyone is an educator.

After all, you’re footing the bill.

Government Snow Day!

Growing up it was the school superintendent with the power to decide if you were going to spend the day learning the multiplication tables and eating mystery meat or racing down snow covered hills and drinking hot chocolate.

For federal government workers in the nation’s capital, that decision currently rests with John Berry. As director of the Office of Personnel Management, Berry made the call each day last week to grant most of the 270,000 federal workers in the Washington, D.C., area a snow day, The New York Times reported.

The D.C. area already broke snowfall records last week with more than 55 inches this winter. And a few more inches arrived yesterday.

The extended break for D.C. government workers started Friday, February 5 when Berry allowed employees to go home four hours early. Offices were closed nearly all of last week with workers having the option Friday (February 12) to either come in two hours late or take unscheduled leave. Add that to today’s President’s Day holiday, and it’s been one long vacation.

Still, not everyone stayed home to make snowmen. Many employees had to report to work because they perform essential functions. And some had to go because their boss said they were expected to show up, such as Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. Others worked from home.

While the final decision to close down is made by Berry, he first consults more than 100 area officials. If the weather is questionable, Berry participates in a nightly call set up by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments with representatives from highway patrols, police departments, utilities, schools and others.

Those in the D.C. area who weren’t sick of the snow this weekend took to Capitol Hill. For the first time since 9/11, the Hill’s lawn was open to sledding for the weekend.

2010 Census: Keeping Count (and Earning Cash)

What if I told you the U.S government plans to create 45,000 jobs in Indiana this year?

OK, maybe not the permanent, high-paying jobs we’re looking for. But that’s how many Hoosier workers will be hired for the 2010 Census.  The temporary positions (many lasting two to six weeks) will pay between $12.25 and $15 per hour. Jobs include census takers, office clerks and crew leaders.

Interested job seekers must take a basic skills test (check out the practice exam) and undergo a background check. Testing is going on now in Marion County and other parts of the state. Testing times and locations are available by calling toll-free (866) 861-2010. More information about the 2010 Census and employment is available on the state’s census site.

So what’s the big deal with the census? The United States conducted its first one in 1790 and has done so every decade since then. The population count determines the number of seats Indiana and others states have in the U.S. House of Representatives. Data also is used to determine political districts and funding distribution for schools, roads, elderly care and neighborhood improvement.

Basically, if every Hoosier is not counted that means less representation and less federal funding for communities. Most people will not fill the role of census taker, but all should take the time to fill out the 10-question form (look for it in the mail in mid-March) – that way a census worker won’t have to come knocking.

10 E-mails to Delete

Not all e-mail scams start with the easy to detect con: “I’m a rich Nigerian prince who needs your help moving millions of dollars. And guess what – I’ll give you a hefty sum of money if you just help me out and provide your bank account number.”

Cnet’s Tech Republic (a site for IT pros) recently blogged the top 10 e-mail scams to watch out for. And some of them look remarkably similar to legitimate messages.

Here are a few to be wary of:

  1. Fake Facebook “friend” messages mimic the real deal. Pay attention to the text in the “to” and “from” fields – if it doesn’t look right, don’t click on the links. Also, make sure the URL is facebook.com (or whatever social networking site the message claims to be from) before clicking. 
  2. Virtual holiday cards are a nice way to send friends or clients an inexpensive greeting (the Chamber started creating its own two years ago). Scammers quickly picked up on the growing popularity of these though. Bogus holiday cards likely won’t tell you the name of the sender; instead it will say something like “A friend sent you a card.” Tech Republic recommends doing a web search of the card service before clicking on the greeting.
  3. If you’re not expecting a package, be leery of e-mails from what appears to be a delivery service. Scammers are sending messages from what appear to be FedEx, UPS and others that say a package could not be delivered because of a problem with the shipping address. The e-mail asks you to fill out an attached form so the parcel can be delivered. Instead of a package, you’ll end up with a computer virus from clicking on the attachment. 

Others on the list: fake admin messages; fear-mongering messages; account cancellation scams; threats from the government; "you’re a winner!"; census survey says…; and in Microsoft (or Apple or Dell or HP) we trust. Read the full list and details on how to avoid these scams on the Tech Republic web site.

Hospitality at a Whole New Level at Purdue Calumet

In the season of giving, Purdue University Calumet is the grateful recipient of the largest monetary gift it has ever received.

The Dean & Barbara White Family Foundation and the Bruce & Beth White Family Foundation announced a $5 million contribution to benefit the university’s hospitality and tourism management program. The gift will be used to enhance the undergraduate efforts and will be renamed the Purdue University Calumet White Lodging Center for Hospitality and Tourism Management program.

Indiana Chamber member White Lodging Services is “one of the fastest-growing, fully-integrated independent hotel ownership, development and management companies in the country,” according to the company’s web site. Based in Merrillville, White Lodging’s current projects include the JW Marriott Indianapolis among other hotels in Indiana and across the nation.

The gift will fund renovation and conversion of the university’s conference center into a nearly 13,000-square-foot instructional facility. It will also support a scholarship fund for high-performing students and create a hospitality and tourism management honors program. The rest of the funding will establish two endowed professorships within the program.

“We have been fortunate to employ many Purdue Calumet students and graduates and have found them to be well prepared, ambitious and steady contributors to our company’s growth and success,” White Lodging Services Chairman and CEO Bruce White said in the press release. “We hope to build and grow on that relationship by providing these expanded facilities and even greater faculty support.”

The renovated educational facilities will include a teaching kitchen, beverage service laboratory, working restaurant, computer labs and faculty offices, the release notes. Planning for the new center will begin in early 2010 with construction and renovations to start in the summer. The center is expected to be completed for the 2011-2012 school year. Read the full press release online.

Forget Costumes; Halloween is About the Candy

Sure, it was fun when I dressed up like Alf when I was a kid (no, I didn’t demand anyone’s cat when trick or treating), but the best part of Halloween night was sorting out the loot.

Lollipop … ehhh. Bubble gum … trash. Chocolate … score!

My sweet tooth always has had a bias toward the creamy, smooth delicacy that is chocolate. While I won’t be knocking on neighbors’ doors this year in search of my true vice, I will indulge in some of Indiana’s finest treats for Halloween. Here are a couple Chamber members who put all of those fun-sized candy bars to shame:

South Bend Chocolate Company offers pumpkin fudge and caramel corn drizzled in chocolate and pumpkin flavor for the fall. You can find me at the downtown Indianapolis location at least once a month indulging in my personal favorite treat – South Bend’s milk chocolate double dipped peanuts. Read more about this maker of all things sweet in a recent BizVoice story.

DeBrand Fine Chocolates, based in Fort Wayne, makes chocolate that’s as beautiful as it tastes. I’m pining for one of its giant chocolate covered caramel apples.

What’s even better about these fall chocolate treats is I can fully justify indulging for Thanksgiving celebrations too. Score!

Jet Setting Hoosiers

Pack your bags, we’re going to Vegas! Or maybe a Caribbean cruise is more your style.

Those are the top domestic and international destinations Hoosier travelers are booking for the rest of 2009, according to a Travel Leaders survey. The travel agency network surveyed some of its agents and owners throughout the state.

Other notable findings in the 2009 fall travel trends survey:

  • 65.6% of Indiana travelers are making U.S. travel reservations four weeks or less from the planned departure date
  • 93.7% of respondents said clients are cutting back on some aspect of travel (such as shortening length of trip)
  • Other top destinations domestically are: Orlando (ranked No. 2), Tampa/St. Petersburg (3) and Chicago and Dallas (tied at No. 4)
  • Hoosiers traveling internationally are heading to: Cancun, Mexico (No. 2); Mediterranean cruises (3); Montego Bay, Jamaica (4); and Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Riviera Maya, Mexico; and Shanghai, China (all tied for No. 5)
  • Still, 90.6% of Indiana Travel Leader respondents say overall travel bookings are lower than at this time in 2008 

Compare these findings to the national travel trends.

Overhauling Medical Malpractice Laws the Right Thing to Do

Malpractice changes have been ignored, for the most part, in the health care reform discussion – now there are numbers to back why this needs to be a part of the solution.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released data estimating government spending on programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program would decrease by $41 billion over a 10-year period with proper reforms. The reason:  Physicians would no longer overuse tests as a way to protect themselves from lawsuits.

Changes in the malpractice system would also cut national health care spending by 0.5% a year ($11 billion in 2009). No, that doesn’t solve all the problems, but trying to fix the lawsuit-happy world we are living in is a step in the right direction.

CongressDaily reports the CBO’s analysis is based on a few reform factors such as capping noneconomic damages at $250,000 and punitive damages at $500,000. It also calculated the numbers based on a one-year statute of limitation for adults and three years for children from the time the injury is discovered.

A few senators rightly shared their support for reform (and dismay for dawdling Democrats), CongressDaily shares:

"This is an important step in the right direction, and these numbers show that this problem deserves more than lip service from policymakers," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "Unfortunately, up to now, that has been all the president and his Democratic allies in Congress have been willing to provide on these issues." Hatch had requested the updated analysis from CBO.

Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn of Texas also expressed disappointment that Democrats have not cracked down on medical liability issues. Cornyn urged senators to "take account of the CBO’s objective numbers and the experience of Texas and other states where healthcare access and affordability have been improved by setting reasonable limits on lawsuits against doctors."

Democrats are reluctant to cap payouts from medical liability lawsuits. But President Obama recently directed HHS Secretary Sebelius to look at ways to make changes to the system that will bring down spending.

CBO’s analysis makes a clear argument that malpractice reform should be part of health care reform discussions. Still, supporters have their work cut out for them based on this outlandish comment:

The findings "reiterate what we’ve always known: that medical malpractice claims have almost no effect on overall healthcare spending," said American Association of Justice President Anthony Tarricone. "The vast majority of empirical evidence suggests that there are only minuscule savings to be found in reforming our nation’s civil justice system."