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Olympic Scandal Hits Michigan State University; Senate Looks To Colleges' Future

Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon answers a question after being confronted by former MSU gymnast Lindsey Lemke during a break in the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar. Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison this week for sex crimes.
Scott Olson
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Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon answers a question after being confronted by former MSU gymnast Lindsey Lemke during a break in the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar. Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison this week for sex crimes.

Hello and welcome to the latest, college-heavy edition of our weekly roundup of education news. First up ...

Michigan State University president, athletic director step down over sex-abuse scandal

Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison this week for sex crimes after a dramatic trial. More than 150 young women, including Olympic medalists, delivered powerful victim impact statements. In addition to his role as the team doctor for USA Gymnastics, Nassar spent nearly two decades as a Michigan State University professor and team doctor for athletes there.

On Wednesday, President Lou Anna Simon announced her resignation. "I am so sorry that a trusted, renowned physician was really such an evil, evil person who inflicted such harm under the guise of medical treatment," she wrote in her public statement.

On Friday, the university's athletic director, Mark Hollis, also stepped down. "I am not running away from anything," Hollis wrote, announcing his retirement. "I am running toward something. Comfort, compassion and understanding for the survivors and our community; togetherness, time and love for my family."

The departures come amid a flurry of civil lawsuits and as state lawmakers, the NCAA and Michigan's attorney general look into MSU's handling of the case.

College must come closer to workforce demands, say senators and DeVos

The Senate education committee held a hearing this week on the Higher Education Act. The nation's biggest higher education law is inching toward reauthorization. At the hearing, lawmakers discussed holding all colleges — not just for-profits — accountable for how their students fare in the workforce.

The committee also discussed innovations that are supposed to make college more efficient, including predictive analytics software and competency-based education that measures learning, not seat time — things we've previously discussed here, here and here.

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sounded similar notes in an address to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. She quoted Israel's ambassador to the U.S., asking: "Why hasn't America's higher ed bubble burst?" She praised collaboration between educators and employers and quicker paths to workforce-ready skills, such as "industry-recognized certificates, two-year degrees, stackable credits, credentials and licensures, advanced degrees, badges, four-year degrees, micro-degrees, apprenticeships."

Teachers must help students develop socially and emotionally, says commission

The Aspen Institute's National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development released a report this week detailing its findings thus far on how students learn. Its conclusion? The evidence is clear that students develop socially and emotionally while in school.

Seems kind of obvious, yet schools still conceive of the work they're doing as primarily academic. The report argues that teacher training must cover social and emotional development in greater detail and that educators must pay special attention to how adversity and trauma impact the brain and affect student learning.

The commission, which includes scientists, educators, and parents, will spend the next year focusing on ways that schools can implement "whole-child development."

Tax breaks reproposed for home-schoolers

Days before President Trump issued an official proclamation declaring last week National School Choice Week, one congressman introduced a bill to grant tax breaks to families that home-school their children. The bill, filed by Republican Rep. Luke Messer of Indiana, is similar to a provision that was dropped at the last minute from last month's sweeping tax overhaul. The move would allow parents to use money from 529 savings plans to pay for home-schooling costs like books, online education materials and tutoring. Messer is the founder and co-chair of the Congressional School Choice Caucus.

Before the overhaul, 529 savings could only be used to cover higher education costs. Now, parents can also use the accounts to cover private K-12 school expenses.

Return on college endowments up short term, down longer term

After a bad year last year, the returns on college and university endowments were up 12.2 percent in the fiscal year ending in June 2017, it was reported this week. However, the average annual return over the past decade is still trending down. This volatility in returns raises worries, especially because the recent tax package includes a new tax on colleges with large endowments.

Students may get their money back from ITT Tech

ITT Technical Institute, once a huge for-profit college, is going through bankruptcy, and a federal judge ruled this week that former students should have a chance at any money that remains at the end of the process.

In fall 2016, ITT Tech shut down its 137 campuses nationwide and filed for bankruptcy. The for-profit college was then investigated for predatory lending practices and false advertising. A year ago, former students filed a lawsuit to make sure they would play a part in the bankruptcy proceedings of ITT Educational Services, ITT Tech's parent company.

According to the new ruling, students who attended the school between 2006 and 2016 will be freed from the nearly $600 million in outstanding payments they owe to the school, and they'll receive refunds for the payments they've already made. These students will join several other groups — including former employees — in line for any of the company's leftover assets.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.
Erin Logan