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Leading the News

Foxx Commits DOT To Speedy Enactment Of FAST Act Provisions.

The Engineering News-Record  (12/19, Ichniowski) blog reported on the passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act this month, turning to “the next challenge…implementing it.” According to the story, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx hopes “to move rapidly to carry out the recently signed law’s directives and launch the programs it creates,” having told the press on Friday that DOT is moving immediately to enact these new programs in the new year. Among the highlights of the FAST Act’s $305-billion transportation plan is the stipulation for a sweeping national grant program directed at “nationally significant freight and highway projects.” These projects will receive a rising amount of funding, hitting “a peak of $1 billion in 2020,” with 60-percent more funding in 2016 “than the highly popular TIGER grants, which DOT has awarded generally once a year since the program was established in 2009.”

States Welcome Long-Term Guarantees Of Federal Funding Under FAST Act. The Florence (AL) Times Daily  (12/20, Corey) reports that Alabama’s state transportation officials are excited for the guarantee of Federal funding coming their way under the FAST Act, with Alabama Department of Transportation engineer Ronnie Baldwin saying, “Stability is the best word you can use.” On the other hand, other Alabama officials lament the fact that the FAST Act provides for only a “slight annual increase” in funding to match the Consumer Price Index. For reference, Alabama “received $732 million” in Federal transportation funding “this year.”

The Rapid City (SD) Journal  (12/20, Mercer\) reports that South Dakota is expediting seven road projects thanks to the increase in state transportation funding under the FAST Act. According to the story, the state is getting “an estimated $15 million more” in the coming year and “will get about $65 million more in state funding annually for highway projects.”

The Casper (WY) Star-Tribune  (12/20, Hancock) reports that “nearly $19 million will flow to Wyoming over the next five years for motorized and nonmotorized trails,” thanks to the FAST Act. Federal transportation funding for Wyoming is set to reach “over $1 billion…through 2020, including money for highways, recreational trails and public transportation.”

Higher Education

National Advisory Committee Recommends Denying Request From Western Regional Accreditor.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (12/18, Kelderman) reports the National Advisory Committee, an 18-member federal panel that advises ED, has recommended that a western regional accreditor’s request to oversee bachelor’s degrees programs at 15 community colleges in California be denied, which would prevent four of the community colleges involved from offering any bachelor’s degrees. The accreditor in question, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, previously oversaw bachelor’s degrees programs at some community colleges in the state in conjunction with another regional accreditor that oversaw four-year colleges, but ED ended that practice in 2013 while allowing already-accredited bachelor’s degrees programs at California community colleges to continue. ED also found other problems with the accreditor in 2013, some of which are still unresolved. The article also outlines the history of the accreditor’s actions with regards to the City College of San Francisco. The accreditor revoked the college’s accreditation in 2013, which prompted a public backlash sparking a lawsuit and federal intervention by several members of Congress and ED to create a new accreditation status called “restoration” allowing the college to continue operations while trying to resolve certain issues.

Student Loan Debt Increasingly Impacting Older Americans.

Bloomberg News  (12/18, Kitroeff) reports on the plight of Americans around retirement age who are saddled with heavy student loan debt, either for themselves or for their children. Even when such individuals declare bankruptcy, “Parent PLUS loans are federally backed and almost impossible to discharge.”

Revised Pay As you Earn Program Kicks In.

The Washington Post  (12/18, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that last Thursday, “millions of Americans became eligible to take advantage of the government’s most generous student loan repayment plan,” the Revised Pay as You Earn program. The program “caps borrowers’ monthly bills to 10 percent of their income and forgives the debt after 20 years of payment.” Under the new change, the program will be open to “anyone with what’s known as a Direct federal loan, regardless of their income or when they borrowed.”

Hamilton College’s “Need Blind” Admissions Policy Increased Student Diversity.

The Hechinger Report  (12/18, Marcus) reports Hamilton College in Clinton, New York has increased their enrollment of nonwhite students from 13% to 25% and poor students, based on eligibility for Pell grants, from 10% to 14% since 2010, when the school went “need blind.” Admissions Director Monica Inzer helped convince the school in 2010 to make admissions decisions without regard to a student’s ability to pay and to make up the difference by eliminating merit aid. According to ED, the percentage of students receiving merit aid at private colleges has increased 44% since 1995, so the controversial move by Hamilton goes against a broader trend. According to ED, the percentage of college students who are black or Hispanic is projected to increase significantly over the next several years, and Inzer says their policy helps prepare them for this demographic shift in the college applicant pool. The article mentions other schools, such as Haverford, Tufts, and Wesleyan, that have adopted similar policies, some with more success than others.

Illinois BOE Finds Nearly Half Of Community College Enrollees Need Remedial Education.

The Chicago Tribune  (12/20) reports the Illinois BOE found that 48.7% of high school graduates who enrolled in community college need remedial education, especially in math, where 41% need additional preparation in before taking college-level courses.

College Students Are More Stressed Than Ever Before.

The Los Angeles Times  (12/21, Rivera) highlights recent studies and surveys that found incoming college students have worse emotional health than has ever been previously reported. The percentage of students who report suffering from depression and anxiety has risen and “only about half of incoming freshmen reported a high level of emotional health.” Experts say some amount of stress can be helpful and motivating, but too much can be debilitating, especially for freshmen and students who are the first in their families to attend college and can feel overwhelmed by their new environment and the expectations placed on them.

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Research and Development

NSF Gives University Of North Dakota Aeronautical Technology Research Grant.

The AP  (12/21) reports that the National Science Foundation has given the University of North Dakota “a $50,000 federal grant to study and develop new technologies for aircraft and spacecraft.” The research is intended to “make flying safer in the earth’s atmosphere or in outer space.”

Mobile Healthcare Technology Makes NIH List Of 14 Goals For The Next 5 Years.

Healthcare IT News  (12/18, Amer) reported that the National Institutes of Health has revealed its list of “ambitious goals” for the next five years, many of which are “either focused on” or “reliant upon technologies.” The 14 goals include efforts to “support research into FDA-approved therapies for 12 or more rare diseases.” In a statement, NIH Director Francis S. Collins said, “Much remains to be done,” adding, “This strategic plan will guide our efforts to turn scientific discoveries into better health, while upholding our responsibility to be wise stewards of the resources provided by the American people.”

7 Scientific Breakthroughs This Year That Prove We’re Already Living In The Future.

In a more than 2,400-word article, Think Progress  (12/18, Raymond) discussed “the most consequential advances from this year that prove just how revolutionary scientific research can be.” The article added “science advocates hope the new boost in funding will help the NIH recover from years of underfunding, potentially paving the way for future advances.”

Scientists Create “Sponge” That Absorbs CO2.

Popular Mechanics  (12/18, Herkewitz) reported that scientists with “a research team headed by Shyamapada Nandi—a chemist at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Pune, India—” announced Friday that they’ve created “a radical new carbon dioxide-absorbing material” that could help reduce carbon emissions more quickly than previously thought. According to Phil De Luna, a materials scientist at the University of Ottawa, the material can be thought of as “a molecular sponge, one that has a lot of really tiny pores” that can absorb and release carbon dioxide based on pressure changes and is “very stable, easy to synthesize, highly scalable, and has great CO2 capture properties at high pressures.”

Industry News

High-Speed Rail Gaining Interest From Private Sector.

The Hill  (12/20, Laing) reports that President Obama’s first-term promise of developing a nationwide high-speed railway network has failed to make progress and lacks congressional support. The Hill mentions two private business planning to open high-speed railway projects in Florida and Texas. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), who has “repeatedly” voted to deny additional federal funding for a proposed California high-speed project, “said the private sector interest shows the future for rail is not with the federal government — and likely not for passengers in California.” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told The Hill on Friday, “You still see a strong appetite and strong activity for high-speed rail in this country. … Inch-by-inch the country moves closer to seeing high-speed service happen, so I’m very confident that the right things are happening.”

US Navy Awards $54 Million EW Decoy Contract To Harris.

Seapower Magazine  (12/18) reports that the US Naval Research Laboratory has awarded Harris Corporation a three-year contract worth up to $54 million for electronic warfare technology and engineering services for its Advanced Decoy Architecture Project. Harris “will provide ADAP payloads designed to lure missiles away from their intended targets with advanced electronic techniques” and upgrade the current Nulka decoy currently in use.

Engineering and Public Policy

Towns Along Southeastern Coast Weighing In Against Offshore Drilling.

The Washington Post  (12/21, Warrick) reports on its front page that nearly 100 communities along the Southeastern US coast “have joined a revolt against a pro-drilling movement that once seemed unstoppable,” voting to oppose offshore drilling. The Obama Administration “is expected to finalize by early spring a plan that could allow limited oil and gas development” off the coasts of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, states that have all “heavily supported drilling in the past” but where some localities now have doubts.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Middle School Students Compete In Michigan Robotics Championship.

The Detroit Free Press  (12/19, Merchant) reports 64 middle school robotics teams competed in the FIRST Tech Challenge State Championship at Lakeview High School in Battle Creek, Michigan. The winner of the competition will advance to the regional finals. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a self-described “proud nerd”, attended the event to encourage students to pursue their dreams and build STEM skills.

Ohio Students Compete In Qualifier Robotics Tournament.

The Youngstown (OH) Vindicator  (12/20, Barron) reports over 120 students from Ohio competed in the Mahoning Valley VEX Robotics Qualifier Competition at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center. The winner of the competition will advance to the state competition to be held in March in Marion, Ohio.

Also in the News

Scientists Taking Advantage Of Star Wars Popularity To Teach Public About Robotics.

The Los Angeles Times  (12/21, Robbins) reports the popularity of BB-8, a droid charter in the latest Star Wars film, is shining a spotlight on robotics. At the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego, a group of scientists spoke about robotics and space exploration before screening the new movie. University of San Diego mechanical engineering professor Nate Delson recently organized a Star Wars-themed robotics contest for students.

Friday’s Lead Stories

DOE Releases Landmark Energy Efficiency Standard.
Citing Gainful Employment Rules, Le Cordon Bleu Closing US Campuses.
Penn State Researchers Discover New Material For Large Electronic Displays.
Self-Driving Cars’ Strict Adherence To Traffic Laws Causes Some Accidents.
Analyses Examine Renewable Tax Credit Extensions In Spending Bill.
Office Of Naval Research Sponsors High School Robotics Competition Near Pittsburgh.

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