• Legislature gives higher education board direction on loans

    Financial aid counselors might be able to advise students to take out a no interest, forgiveable loan in the future, which is currently forbidden under federal law. 

    The Legislature's Sunset Advisory Commission, a body charged with assessing the need of state agencies, directed the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to seek a revision to federal law that prevents schools from advertising the state's B-On-Time Loan Program, according to a report released by the commission in July. Financial aid officials are currently only allowed to direct students to federal financial aid programs, not state.

    The B-On-Time Loan program grants students a no interest loan that is forgiveable if they graduate in four years with at least a 3.0 GPA. Five percent of a student's tuition is used to fund the program, and the higher education board's preliminary estimates indicate the program will have $84 million in awards for fiscal years 2014-2015. UT-Austin students typically take out $7,400 per year under the program. 

    One of the program's biggest problems is low student participation rates, according to a report by the Sunset Advisory Commission. At UT-San Antonio, for instance, $100,000 went unused in 2011 because students did not know about it, officials claim.

    “We’re not allowed to advertise these funds due to restrictions on alternative lending,” said Lisa Blazer, associate vice president for UT-San Antonio’s Financial Aid and Enrollment Services. “They have to request it from us. That will explain why a small amount will not be spent.”

    Follow Jody Serrano on Twitter @jodyserrano. 

  • The Morning Texan: Dry weather, X Games and more

    According to the National Weather Service, Monday will have a high of 98 degrees and there will be no chance of rain.

    Here is some morning reading:

    Yesterday's most read story online: The X Games' arrival into Austin has the power to change the culture of extreme, alternative sports here in Central Texas. It also has the power to change the perception of Austin. 

    In case you missed it: UT is working on another campus food garden that officials say will reduce the University’s dependence on outside suppliers.

    What you have to read: UT-Austin is estimated to receive $5.4 million from the state next year to for the B-On-Time Loan program  an almost $2 million increase from 2013 while other UT System schools are set to see their funding decline.

  • Texas congresswoman wants a national historic park on Moon

    A Texas congresswoman is sponsoring a bill that would establish a national historic park on the Moon.

    Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, is sponsoring a bill along with Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Maryland, in the U.S. Congress that would create the Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act. The national historic park would be located at the Apollo landing site.

    The bill says the act would protect the historic site, preserve the artifacts from the landing for scientific inquiry and improve the public’s understanding of the Apollo program. According to the bill, the landing site could be in danger as commercial enterprises and foreign nations acquire the ability to land on the Moon.

    The bill defines the Apollo landing site and artifacts as “all areas of the Moon where astronauts and instruments connected to the Apollo program between 1969 and 1972 touched the lunar surface.”

    NPR reported that several hurdles, including the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, stand in the bill’s way.

    The bill has been referred to a committee, but a hearing date has not been scheduled yet.

    Follow Bobby Blanchard on Twitter @bobbycblanchard.

  • UT president tells faculty, staff no salary increases

    UT President William Powers Jr. has informed the University faculty and staff via email that there will be no centrally funded salary increase for the current fiscal year.

    “I certainly wish we could do more,” Powers wrote in the email. “I'm grateful to everyone on the campus who contributes to the mission of the University and proud of the work you do each day to advance this great institution.”

    In the email sent on July 9, Powers said the University is still trying to offset a $92 million decrease in state funding over the past two years. Although the Texas Legislature increased UT’s funding by $25 million during the recent legislative session, Powers wrote that it would not be enough for salary increases. According to Powers, the University must use the state’s funding to pay for requirements such as employee benefits.

    Although there will be no centrally funded salary increase, Powers wrote that deans and vice president can raise salaries based on the budgets of their respective colleges, schools and departments.

    Powers added that the salary policy is still subject to approval from the UT System Board of Regents.

    Expect more on this story later in the week.

    Follow Jacob Kerr on Twitter @jacobrkerr.

  • Interns suing employers around the country following Black Swan ruling

    Interns around the country are taking employers to court who do not pay them at least minimum wage, a little over a month after a federal ruling broke new ground on the legal requirements businesses have for training their interns. 

    According to an online ProPublica database, a website that supports investigative journalism, there are currently 14 lawsuits around the country concerning the responsibilities employers have for internships. Three of those lawsuits have been filed since last month, when a federal judge in New York found that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated the law when it did not pay two interns who worked on the production of the Oscar-winning film “Black Swan.” 

    The judge said employers must follow Department of Labor guidelines and either pay interns for their work or directly supervise their education. In addition, the judge said employers should receive “no immediate advantage” from intern labor. The case still only applies to New York and could be overturned on appeal. 

    Businesses being sued range from intern-heavy employers, including the media website Gawker, to public relations and fashions firms, and even two universities. The two higher education suits concern a university athletic division at Hamilton College, New York, and a separate anesthesia internship at Wolford College, Florida. 

    The rulings could significantly reshape the field of work for internships, which are quickly becoming a necessary stepping-stone for entry into the post-graduate workforce. According to a New York Times article published last week, less than half of current college graduates currently work in jobs that require a degree.

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