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Leading the News

ED Set To Release College Rating Framework.

The Washington Post  (12/18, Anderson) reports that under a draft framework scheduled to be released by ED today, colleges will be rated “on access, affordability and student outcomes — perhaps relying on graduates’ employment and earnings data.” The POst reports that ED’s framework “leaves many questions unanswered,” but clarifies that ED “still intends to assume a new role as an arbiter of the performance of thousands of colleges and universities.” The Post quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “Designing a new college ratings system is an important step in improving transparency, accountability and equity in higher education. The public should know how students fare at institutions receiving federal student aid, and this performance should be considered when we assess our investments and set priorities.”

The Wall Street Journal  (12/19, Belkin, Subscription Publication) also covers this story, quoting Mitchell saying, “The public should know how students fare at institutions receiving federal student aid, and this performance should be considered when we assess our investments and set priorities. We also need to create incentives for schools to accelerate progress toward the most important goals, like graduating low-income students and holding down costs.”

The Politico  (12/18, Emma) “Morning Education” blog describes the speculation surrounding the specifics of the plan ahead of its release, and notes that “Republicans are already going on the attack” on Capitol Hill.

Bloomberg News  (12/19, Lorin) reports that the ratings could be used by families to “steer their children toward colleges churning out graduates who make a good living 10 years after graduation,” noting that the “ratings may also favor schools where diplomas lead recent grads to jobs with salaries sufficient to cover living costs and repay student loans.” Noting that the ratings are intended to promote college affordability, Bloomberg reports that ED “wants to give consumers information so they can shop for college the way they do for cars and refrigerators.” This piece quotes Mitchell saying, “We’re trying to focus the debate. We are far less interested in fine gradation than we are in identifying very high performers and very low performers.”

The AP  (12/19, Hefling) reports that the fact that ED only released a “framework” for the plan is an indicator “of just how complicated it is for the federal government to assess more than 7,000 colleges and universities.” However, the piece reports that the focus is largely on “access, affordability and outcomes — particularly the number of students completing their degree.” The AP reports that Mitchell said that the Administration is not likely to push for legislation to tie the ratings to Federal student aid during President Obama’s final years in office, and quotes him saying, “I think people have been worried primarily because they don’t know what it is we actually intend to do. I’m hopeful that now that we have a document out we’ll be able to have a very constructive, positive conversation about how we do this in the right way.”

Politico  (12/19) reports that the goal of the plan “is to steer billions in federal financial aid toward the colleges that rate highly — and to yank funds from those that fail to meet administration standards.” However, “outraged” Republicans “are already going on the attack.” The piece notes that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) “plans to lead an effort to cut off funding for the ratings initiative,” while Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will do the same.

Analysis: Report Short On Details. In a separate article, Politico  (12/19) reports that ED officials had been accurate in recent months when they described the document released today as “a ‘draft,’ an ‘outline’ and a ‘wire frame,’” noting that it consists of “a list of things the department is considering in its analysis of which institutions offer students and families the biggest bang for their buck.” This piece notes that ED is seeking public input on the draft, quoting Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying, “With the guidance of thousands of wise voices, we can develop a useful ratings system that will help more Americans realize the dream of a degree that unleashes their potential and opens doors to a better life.”

Other media outlets covering this story include the NPR  (12/19) “NprEd” blog, the Los Angeles Times  (12/19, Gordon), Reuters  (12/19, Nawaguna), US News & World Report  (12/19), and Inside Higher Ed  (12/19).

Higher Education

Report: States Working To Boost Low-Income Students’ College Graduation Rates.

The Christian Science Monitor  (12/18) reports that according to a new report from Jobs for the Future, a group that works to boost postsecondary education for low-income students, “community college students need better guidance and clearer pathways to a degree if significant numbers of low-income students are to graduate with a high-value credential.” The piece cites low community college completion rates, and says the report says that despite schools’ efforts, “states need ‘integrated reform strategies’ to scale up promising new approaches.”

Henry Rowan Foundation Donates Further $15 Million To Rowan University.

The Philadelphia Inquirer  (12/19, Lai) reports that Rowan University’s engineering school is receiving $15 million from the Henry M. Rowan Family Foundation in $1 million annual installments. Henry Rowan’s initial $100 million donation in 1992 helped what was originally called Glassboro State College into one of the largest colleges or universities in New Jersey, with a student body increase from 9,855 to nearly 15,000 and several new academic centers and facilities opened in recent years. The school’s endowment grew from $1.33 million in today’s money in 1992 to some $180 million.

From ASEE
#ASEEYoADiversity Three-minute video– Karan Watsoni: Minority programs are necessary until our colleges change

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November Prism Online – Now Open to Public
The cover story, “Corporate Blinders,” presents an engineering ethics case study.

Research and Development

UCLA Researchers Develop Lens-Free Microscope.

The Los Angeles Times  (12/18, Netburn) reports a Science Translational Medicine paper by UCLA scientists detail a new lens-free microscope that is equally as effective as light microscopes at detecting cellular abnormalities. The paper’s senior author, UCLA professor Aydogan Ozcan, said that “The bread and butter of this project is a CCD or CMOS imager, which is the same thin chip you find in every little digital camera, whether it’s a high-end SLR or a cellphone camera.” Although in a study a board certified pathologist was able to achieve 99 percent accuracy in cancer tissue detection with images from the device, Ozcan said the product still requires work.

Pitt Scientists Work On Wheelchair Standards.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review  (12/19) reports that researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are working on developing “new standards of wheelchairs worldwide.” Jon Pearlman, from the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, explains that “there’s no trained personnel around the world to know what type of wheelchair should be provided to the users.” Thus, Pearlman and Prof. Rory “Cooper are working on the project with the US Agency for International Development.”

Workforce

Manufacturers Adding Jobs.

The Buffalo (NY) News  (12/19, Robinson) reports White Rock Pigments is planning on opening a new $130 million plant in the Buffalo area that will employ more than 100 workers. The project was given $2 million in tax credits and should be open by August 2016.

Hampton Roads (VA) Virginian-Pilot  (12/19, McCabe) reports that the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is looking to hire 1,500 workers by the end of September 2015. The hiring will be in part to replace a loss of 700 workers to retirement, resignations and transfers, but will also include a net gain of 800 positions “primarily in the trade skills.”

The McClatchy-Tribune News Service  (12/19) reports Anheuser-Busch subsidiary Metal Container Corp. broke ground on a $150 million facility expansion at its aluminum bottle manufacturing plant. The expansion will create 70 new jobs that will double production at the plant.

The Detroit Free Press  (12/18) reports robotics supplier Paslin of Warren, Michigan, is looking to hire 200 full-time technical positions to expand its ability to produce assembly line equipment. The company is investing $20 million in its expansion and was able to secure $1.7 million from the Michigan Economic Development Corp to help train workers.

The McClatchy-Tribune News Service  (12/18) reports TiFiber of Fayetteville, AR, has announced plans to locate a production facility in Fort Smith that could create nearly 100 new jobs by 2019, according to a news release. Pilot-scale production of a sanitizer will begin next year to establish a Food and Drug Administration certification, with “significant production” expected to begin in 2017.

The AP  (12/19) reports that 16 companies in Indiana have promised to create more than 1,700 jobs in the state by 2025 after receiving $19 million in tax credits, according to an announcement from state officials. AMI Industries Inc. has promised to invest $8.5 million to create 475 jobs by 2017, and Grand Design RV will invest $6.9 million and create up to 330 additional jobs.

Industry News

New Wave Of Engineering Innovators Look To Revive Nuclear Power.

In a lengthy essay in Newsweek  (12/19), Josh Freed of Third Way covers nuclear engineering Ph.D. candidates at the Nuclear Science and Engineering Library at MIT, Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie, who while studying for their qualifying exams, came across a “50-year-old paper from Oak Ridge about a reactor powered not by rods of metal-clad uranium pellets in water, like the light water reactors (LWRs) of today, but by a liquid fuel of uranium melted into molten salt.” They were “intrigued, because it was clear from the paper that the molten salt design avoided some of the main problems associated with LWRs.” And it wasn’t just theoretical—”Oak Ridge had built a real reactor, which ran from 1965-1969, racking up 20,000 operating hours.” Freed adds that the “domestic reactor market went into decline” and the “American supply chain for nuclear reactor parts withered.” While “almost all commercial nuclear technology had been discovered in the United States, our competitors eventually purchased much of our nuclear industrial base, with Toshiba buying Westinghouse and Hitachi buying GE’s nuclear arm.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Highway Engineering Credited In Reducing Roadway Deaths.

The AP  (12/19) reports Wisconsin is set to record the fewest number of traffic fatalities since 1943, according to state transportation officials. With only 480 fatalities so far this year, the State Department of Transportation is applauding “improved engineering on roadways” that include rumblestrips and roundabouts as major factors that prevent serious crashes. Last year the state recorded 527 road deaths.

Nebraska Court May Rule On Keystone Friday.

The Hill  (12/19, Barron-Lopez) reports that the Nebraska Supreme Court may rule as early as Friday morning on whether the governor had authority to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline through the state. A lower court ruled in September that a 2012 law allowing Gov. Dave Heineman to greenlight the pipeline’s route was unconstitutional. If the state’s supreme court’s decision is not made by Friday, it will likely come early next year. The Hill notes that depending on the verdict, the State Department could continue its national determination review of the controversial pipeline next year as well.

TransCanada CEO: Keystone XL Still Relevant. Bloomberg News  (12/18, Penty, Van Loon) reports that in comments Wednesday during an interview, TransCanada CEO Russ Girling discussed questions about the relevance of the Keystone XL pipeline in the current market. Girling said of the oil sands that would be transported by the pipeline, “We’re not going to be exporting anything outside of the United States. The pipeline that we’ve proposed will be needed under any scenario.”

Reid Touts NRC Report On Yucca Mountain Drawbacks.

Roll Call  (12/19, Sanchez, Subscription Publication) reports Sen. Harry Reid “claimed another victory Thursday” in the fight to “kill the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project.” Reid “touted a new Nuclear Regulatory Commission report.” In a statement, Reid said the report “acknowledges one of the major weaknesses of the effort to resurrect Yucca Mountain” is that the “federal government does not have the water it needs nor control of the land necessary to build a nuclear waste dump in Nevada.”

Space-Based Solar May Offer Attractive Power Generation.

CNN  (12/19, Shadbolt) reports on the benefits of solar power stations in space where “there’s no atmosphere, it’s never cloudy, and in geosynchronous orbits it’s never night.” The story quotes Dr. Paul Jaffe of the US Naval Research Laboratory, saying, “NASA and the US Department of Energy did a study in the late 70s that cost $20 million at the time and looked at it in pretty great depth,” adding, “The conclusion at that time was that there was nothing wrong with the physics but the real question is the economics.” He pointed out that the situation remains much the same, given that it is still a question of economics, though there are also some technical problems to be solved. It explains that both laser beams and microwaves offer the means of transferring energy from space. Jaffe said that at present, building such a power station would cost “tens of billions” given the need for “as many as 100 launches into space,” in building it.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Alaska STEM Program Receives National Award.

The Fairbanks (AK) News-Miner  (12/19) reports “the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program was named the most exceptional program in STEM education and workforce development by the United States Department of Energy’s Minorities in Energy Initiative this week.” The program was honored “for its work to ‘establish and implement a framework for achieving enduring growth of minority participation in the energy sector through enhanced public awareness of energy-related careers and the promotion of both STEM education and workforce development.’”

STEM Event With Professional Scientists Hosted At South Lake Elementary.

The Gaithersburg (MD) Gazette  (12/12, Davis) reports that scientists and working professionals from groups including the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Defense, and Montgomery County’s Department of Environment participated in South Lake Elementary School’s first STEM Night. South Lake’s First-grade teacher Angelina Ferri said “We’re hearing from experts that STEM skills are really important for 21st-century learners to have in order to be successful in the future. We want to prepare our 21st century learners for those careers.” The article also describes several demonstrations that occurred as part of the event.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

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