ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News

Five Senators Push Back On McConnell’s Efforts To Have States Opt-Out Of Clean Power Plan.

The Hill  (4/15, Henry) reports a group of Senate Democrats “is dragging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) home turf into the fight over the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.” Led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the five senators, “penned a letter to the nation’s governors Tuesday saying that McConnell’s views on climate change are out of line with his own Kentucky constituents, and urging states to comply with the climate rule.” The letter is an attempt “to rebuff McConnell’s March op-ed encouraging states to opt out of writing their own regulations under the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed emissions reduction plan.” The letter “highlights a litany of Kentucky institutions — from universities to government agencies to a gas company — that either agree on the science behind climate change or support climate-change legislation.”

Roll Call  (4/15, Lesniewski) reports that also signing the letter “were Democrats Barbara Boxer of California, Al Franken of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, as well as Bernard Sanders, an independent from Vermont.” The senators wrote, “Before you take advice about climate change from Senator McConnell please consider first what so many knowledgeable voices from the Bluegrass State are saying about climate change, and second how failing to act gives up your state’s right to set its own course of action toward a clean energy future.”

The National Journal  (4/15, Plautz, Subscription Publication) reports that last month McConnell wrote in a letter to the National Governors Association that “the EPA proposal is ‘already on shaky legal grounds’ and said states wouldn’t face legal consequences for not complying.”

About 17% Of US Coal-Fired Power Generation Set To End.

In a piece that features an interactive map, Bloomberg  (4/15, Roston, Migliozzi) reports that according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, about 17 percent of US coal-fired power generation will “vanish in the next few years,” due to aging coal plants, “the abundance of cheap natural gas and a new EPA rule that begins taking effect April 16.”

Senate Democrats Look To Counter McConnell’s Governors Move. Meanwhile, the Huffington Post  (4/14, Barron-Lopez) reports that a “handful” of Senate Democrats are “pushing back” against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who sent a letter to governors “urging them to not comply with the administration’s signature climate rule” limiting “pollution from existing power plants.” The Democrats “are sending all 50 governors their own message,” calling on them to cooperate with the EPA’s rules.

Higher Education

ED Fines Corinthian Unit $30 Million Over Job Placement Claims.

A brief New York Times  (4/15, Lewin, Subscription Publication) item reports that ED has given Corinthian Colleges Inc. a $30 million fine “for misrepresenting the job placement rates at its Heald College,” citing “947 false placement rates given to students and prospective students.” The article reports that the firm sometimes hired temp agencies “to hire graduates for on-campus temporary jobs and counted those students as placed,” and also “counted as placed students who got their jobs even before enrolling.”

The AP  (4/15, Horwitz) reports that ED alleges that Heald “engaged in egregious misconduct and misled students,” noting that parent firm Corinthian “collapsed last summer amid a cash shortage and fraud allegations.” The piece notes that ED says that Heald showed “a pattern of falsifying post-graduation employment data.” For example, the firm reported that one of its grads was working as an accountant, even though “she was working at Taco Bell.”

In its coverage, Bloomberg News  (4/14) quotes Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying, “This should be a wake-up call for consumers across the country about the abuses that can exist within the for-profit college sector. We will continue to hold the career college industry accountable and demand reform for the good of students and taxpayers.” This piece notes parenthetically that Corinthian imploded last year when ED “curtailed its access to federal student aid.”

Nevada Considers STEM Grants For Community College Workforce Development.

The AP  (4/15, Snyder) reports that Nevada is considering bills that would put around $10 million toward state community colleges to grow a specialized workforce in the state. Supporters claim the measures will “provide badly needed grant funding” to train workers in emerging industries. The proposals will fund STEM programs, and while no action was taken by the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday, no one has opposed the bills.

Community College Students Compete To Design Mars Rover.

The Tri-City Herald (WA)  (4/15) reports Columbia Basin College students will complete with groups from over 200 other community colleges in a NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars spring program competition to design a Mars rover. The Herald notes that NASA’s program “aims to bring more minorities into science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, related careers.”

Report Finds Student Loan Delinquency May Be Over 30 Percent.

The Wall Street Journal  (4/15, Mitchell) reports in its “Real Time Economics” blog, citing research from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, that student loans have higher rates of delinquency than reported by the Education Department and higher rates than other forms of consumer debt. The St. Louis Fed found that 31.5 percent are behind on payments by at least 30 days. It notes that official reports generally include all those with student loans including those who are not required to make payments because they are still in school or for other reasons. An earlier report by the New York Fed using that measure found that 17 percent of those with student loan debt were behind on their payments. The St. Louis Fed counted only those with student debt who are currently required to make payments. By comparison, just 8.5 percent of borrowers with auto loans were 30 days behind.

MOOCs Seen As Expensive, Ineffective.

US News & World Report  (4/14, Derousseau) reports that the University of California’s Online Instruction Pilot Project, a program for “an all-digital ‘campus’” to offer access to its education to students otherwise “shut out” of the university, is now “another expensive example of the ineffectiveness” of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs). The program, initially intended to allow California students to enroll in courses on other campuses and to allow non-UC students to enroll in courses for $1,000 to $2,000 each, has largely abandoned the second goal after just 250 students from outside the university enrolled from spring 2012 to spring 2014. Now, renamed as the Innovative Learning Technology Initiative, the program focuses on the first goal. I. Elaine Allen of Babson College, who has studied the matter, says that MOOCs “have not been shown to bring more students to a school, and they have incredible attrition.” The program at the University of California cost $7 million to establish.

March+April Prism now online (members only)
Cover Story: “Growing Pains.” Ethiopia is pushing engineering education harder than any other country In Africa, creating challenges for its academics.

VIDEOS – Watch the speakers and presentations from the Engineering Research Council meeting, held in March.

VIDEOS – Watch a collection of talks from the Public Policy Colloquium, held in February. (Due to audio problems, not all talks were captured.)

ASEE Perks
Learn about the broad collection of benefits available to ASEE members.

Research and Development

WSJournal Op-Ed: Patent Troll Legislation Is Too Broad, Could Hurt Universities.

The Presidents of Boston University and Clemson University, Robert Brown and James Clements, respectively, argue in a Wall Street Journal  (4/15, Brown, Clements, Subscription Publication) op-ed against the proposed Innovation Act in Congress intended to fight patent trolls. They contend the bill’s language is much too broad and could make research at universities riskier.

Lawmakers Investigate Possible Gender Bias In Approval Process For Federal STEM Grants.

In continuing coverage, Science Magazine  (4/15, Mervis) analyzes gender bias in “careers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields,” noting that “the top Democrats on three committees in the U.S. House of Representatives—all women—are concerned” and have “asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to ask the six leading federal research agencies for data on their applicant pools.” The article notes that the NIH and NSF “keep careful records as part of an ongoing effort to monitor whether agency officials and grant reviewers are discriminating against women and minority scientists.” The GAO noted that DOD, DOE, and NASA, do not “routinely” collect such data.


“Position Gap” More Important Than Wage Gap For Women In Tech.

The Washington Post  (4/14, Peterson) reports in its “The Switch” blog that while “many tech jobs have among the smallest gender wage gaps of all occupations,” a recent survey by Dice found that “men were much more likely to have a job title that paid better.” The Post reports that instead of a wage gap, the tech industry has a “position gap.” Academics suggest that “ingroup favoritism” is responsible for most modern forms of discrimination. Given that, “the lack of women at the top means it’s even harder for young women to climb the ladder.”

“Chorus” Of Lawmakers: Oil Train, Pipeline Safety Rules Not Moving Fast Enough.

McClatchy  (4/15, Tate, Subscription Publication) reports that on Tuesday, a “chorus” of lawmakers “expressed frustration” with a pair of DOT officials over “the delays in approving and implementing various regulations related to the movement of hazardous materials by rail and pipeline.” Sarah Feinberg of the Federal Railroad Administration and Tim Butters of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration argued that they “have little choice but to work within a multi-step process that involves public comment, industry participation and multiple layers of review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Telecom Firms File Legal Challenge To FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules.

Politico  (4/14, Boliek) reports that the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules “came under a new legal assault Tuesday, as the major wireless and cable industry trade groups filed lawsuits to overturn the order.” CTIA – The Wireless Association, “which represents AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, filed its suit in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.” The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, whose members include Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Cablevision, “went to the same court, as did the American Cable Association, which represents smaller cable operators.” The legal challenges, “which were widely anticipated, reflect a new phase in the net neutrality debate, with the telecom industry seeking to derail the FCC effort in court.” The FCC’s Democratic majority voted in February “to regulate broadband service like a public utility to ensure equal treatment of Web traffic – a move the industry views as heavy-handed regulation that will harm innovation.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Los Angeles Unified School District Approves All-Girl STEM Academy.

The AP  (4/15, Armario) reports that the Los Angeles Unified School District approved the creation of an all-girl STEM school to promote female achievement in the subjects and prevent the achievement gap that emerges for girls in middle and high school. The approval is conditioned on approval from the state BOE to create a single-gender school and would open in 2016 to a group of 200 students from sixth to ninth grade, eventually growing to all high school grades

Volunteers In Washington DC Region Help Show Practical Side Of Science To Students.

The Gaithersburg (MD) Gazette  (4/14, McEwan) reports that the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Senior Scientists and Engineers Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics [STEM] Volunteer Program has grown from eight members in 2004 to 160 members in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC. The volunteers, all scientists, work with science teachers to show students the “practical application” of scientific learning.

STEM Program CEO: Parents Play Major Role In Promoting STEM.

Project Lead The Way CEO Vince Betram writes in an op-ed to US News & World Report  (4/14) that parents are “a child’s first teacher” and are critical in developing their children’s interest in STEM fields, even if they are not particularly well versed in the fields themselves. He argues they can accomplish this by engaging children in their education, supporting them with an environment that promotes learning, foster creativity, and allow them to grow their critical thinking skills. Particular actions that can help include extracurricular activities like robotics club, summer Internet activities, and hands-on learning. Parents are particularly important for showing girls that STEM fields are not off-limits.

Robotics Competition Team’s Robot Is Recovered By Police After Theft.

The Washington Post  (4/14, Balingit) reports that on Monday, police recovered Loudoun County high school students’ robot which was lost in an auto theft. The robot was designed by the students for competition in a robotics tournament, however its recovery came too late for it to be shipped to St. Louis for the tournament. Students instead will be using a quickly-built replacement robot.

Baltimore Schools Join NASA In STEM Program.

The iSchoolGuide  (4/14) reports Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore, Maryland and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center are “joining hands to offer two (2) engineering based programs to elementary aged children in the Baltimore area.” Dean Kearn, Deputy Director for the Office of Education at the Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a press release, “The goal of our collaboration is to promote student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) during a student’s elementary school years.” The program “will be offered as an afterschool program at four Baltimore County sites and will introduce elementary-aged students to the principles of engineering and problem solving.”

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

Administration Tightens Offshore Drilling Rules.
GAO Study Examined Tracking Of Demographic Data Of STEM Grant Winners.
Study: Faculty Biased Toward Women For College Science Jobs.
Blog: States Ahead Of Feds In Fracking Regulations.
STEM Support Ranks Highest In California Spending Priorities Poll.

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