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

Leading the News

CFPB Lawsuit Claims Navient “Cheated” Student Loan Borrowers.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Hayashi, Subscription Publication) reports the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced on Wednesday a suit against Navient Corp., charging it with having given borrowers false information and failing to process payments, while also failing to respond to complaints. The CFPB is seeking “significant relief” for borrowers. In reply, Navient said the suit was politically motivated and false. Also on Wednesday, the state attorneys general of Illinois and Washington announced separate suits against Navient. Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Lynch) reports the CFPB charged Navient with “systematically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment.”

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Hamilton, Nasiripour, Lorin) reports the CFPB alleges that Navient “failed to properly service private and federal loans, provided incorrect information to borrowers, improperly processed payments and didn’t respond to complaints.” CFPB Director Richard Cordray in announcing the suit said, “We believe that Navient repeatedly creates obstacles to repayment by misallocating or misapplying payments,” and “fails to correct its errors unless a consumer stays vigilant, discovers the problem, and contacts the company to insist that it be fixed.” The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Khouri) reports the CFPB said that Navient “cheated borrowers, resulting in higher payments.”

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, McCoy) reports Cordray said, “Navient chose to shortcut and deceive consumers to save on operating costs.” But Navient, according to The Hill Share to
FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Schroeder), “slammed” the action, accusing the CFPB of having issued “an ultimatum: settle before Inauguration Day or be sued.” The company says the suit is “unfounded” and timed for “political” reasons. CNN Money Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Lobosco) reports all three suits “named both Navient and Sallie Mae,” as Navient “spun off from Sallie Mae in 2014.” The company services “about one in four student loan borrowers.”

Additional coverage is provided by a front page New York (NY) Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, A1, Cowley, Silver-Greenberg, Subscription Publication) story, the AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Gordon), the Washington (DC) Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Douglas-Gabriel) “Grade Point” newsletter, another Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Lynch, Heavey) article, MarketWatch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Berman), the Chicago (IL) Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Hamilton), American Banker Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Berry, Subscription Publication), the Los Angeles (CA) Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Khouri), CBS Money Watch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Picchi) online, BuzzFeed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Hensley-Clancy), and The Week Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18).

Higher Education

Charlotte School Of Law Rejects Agreement With ED Over Student Loans.

The Charlotte (NC) Observer Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Gordon) reports the ED’s negotiations with Charlotte School of Law “over the return of millions of dollars in student loans” have broken down. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said Wednesday that his agency and the school “reached an agreement in principle that would have freed up some of the federal loan money in time for the planned start of classes Monday,” but Mitchell later said the school “has since rejected what it had previously accepted and has informed the Department that it will not be accepting the conditions set” under the prior agreement. Mitchell said that any new loans must be handled in a way “that does not create risk to taxpayers,” and “with an agreement now off the table, Mitchell said, the Charlotte students also don’t qualify for the full and partial tuition refunds available to those who attend a closed school.”

ED Says Technical Programming Error Inflated Data On Student Loan Repayment.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Fuller, Subscription Publication) reports that on Friday, the Education Department said that a technical programming error caused under-reporting of the number of students who have defaulted on their student loans, or who have failed to pay down their debt within seven years. The Journal’s analysis using the new numbers found that at least half of students at more than 1,000 US colleges and trade schools fell into one of those two categories. The Journal speculates on policy implications for student loan forgiveness in light of the new data.

UNC President Says Job Candidates Have Rejected NC Over Bathroom Bill.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Dalesio) features an interview with University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings, who said that state’s “law limiting the legal protections of LGBT people has hampered the public universities that drive the state’s economic growth.” Spellings is paraphrased as asserting “recruited candidates have ruled out moving to North Carolina because of” House Bill 2, and “she’s unaware of any academic talent embracing a North Carolina move because of the law.” Spellings said, “We’re in a competitive world and our competitors have used this issue against us to some extent.” She added, “I know people have withdrawn their candidacy. But how many? To what effect? Were they not coming anyway? We’ll never know.” The AP notes, “A special legislative session last month to repeal HB2 fell apart and the law remains in place.”

Analysis: Momentum Builds For Colleges To Offer Money-Back Guarantees.

An analysis by U.S. News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Marcus) contributor “The Hechinger Report” asserts there is mounting pressure for colleges to offer money-back guarantees. Proposals being floated in the US Congress “would variously require or encourage institutions to assume part of the losses from loans on which their students default, warrant that their students will graduate within a given period of time, and pledge that their graduates will land jobs with salaries worth what they pay for their educations.” For example, one “bipartisan bill in Congress called for colleges to lose eligibility for their students to get federal loans altogether and cover some of the debt their students fail to repay if the proportion who default exceeds a certain level.”

WSJ Ranks Top 10 Small-Town And Rural Northeast Colleges.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Subscription Publication) features a list of its picks for the top 10 small-town and rural colleges in the northeast, which is led by Dartmouth, Williams, Middlebury, and Bowdoin.

Peco Energy Gives College Grant For Solar Equipment.

The Philadelphia Inquirer Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18) reports Peco Energy on Thursday “will award Community College of Philadelphia a $10,000 grant for equipment to improve the study of solar energy analysis and energy‐saving strategies.” CCP said the grant will serve 150 students targeting STEM careers each semester.

Rising Prices For Meal Plans Help Drive Cost Of College.

The Hechinger Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Mathewson) reports that meal plans at college are “helping drive the rising cost of higher education” with most colleges “charging students far more for each meal than the typical American spends to eat at home.” While the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated it costs a single person an average of $3,989 for food per year, colleges typically charge about $4,500 for eight months. Schools often look to meal plans as a way to bring in extra revenue when there is more pressure on restraining tuition increases. Many schools also require freshmen to live on campus and to buy an expensive meal plan, while older students may have some choice of plan.

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Research and Development

Otherlab Details Its DARPA-Funded ICARUS Disposable UAV.

Digital Trends Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Dormehl) reports that in an interview, Otherlab engineer Star Simpson discussed the company’s DARPA-funded disposable cardboard Inbound Controlled Air-Releasable Unrecoverable Systems (ICARUS) UAVs. The devices – which do not have engines – are designed to be released by a larger aircraft, glide to their destination with the aid of a mini computer’s guidance, and then biodegrade after delivering supplies. Simpson said, “We enable distributed delivery with precise landings, solving the ‘last leg’ problem for battlefield or low-infrastructure locations, and also reduce supply chain vulnerability in those cases.”

Engineering Company To Test Self-Driving Cars In India.

Next Web Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Ghousal) reports Indian engineering company Tata Elxsi announced it will start testing its self-driving technology in Bangalore, India. Although the company doesn’t construct its own cars, Tata Elxsi said “it’s already started trials with two sedans at a facility on the edge of town with its custom kit consisting of LIDAR and radar, as well as cameras and sensors that feed data to a centralized processing stack.” Tata Elxsi would be the first to test autonomous technology in India and “hopes to eventually be able to offer manufacturers a platform that’s ready” for integration in the near future. Indian roads present unique challenges that companies like Google and Tesla have not yet faced, even in other developing countries. According to Next Web, “in India, lane discipline and pedestrian movement are wildly erratic,” which would probably overload autonomous vehicles’ sensors with data. Many Indian officials hope autonomous driving in the country could help reduce its exponential number of road fatalities.

US Army Seeks Proposals For Missile-Launched Weaponized UAVs.

New Scientist Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Hambling) reports that the DOD in a new solicitation for design proposals details plans for “a missile that could shoot a swarm of weaponised drones over a target area.” Called “Cluster UAS Smart Munition for Missile Deployment,” the system would equip existing missiles with a set of “smart quadcopters” that “would unfold, decelerate and fly off under their own power to attack different locations,” enabling one missile to destroy multiple targets. The Pentagon recently demonstrated a “swarm” of Perdix UAVs released from F/A-18 fighter jets, and the missile-launch concept “takes the idea further.”


Women Studying Civil Engineering Up Nearly Seven Percent Since 2007, UCAS Data Show.

New Civil Engineer (UK) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, McIntyre) reports UCAS data show the percent “of women starting civil engineering degrees has jumped” from 13.5 percent in 2007 to 20.3 percent in 2016. However, “the number of female students still remains below the 1,000 mark at 875 – the highest for any year in the reporting period.” Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) education and skills lead Stephanie Fernandes said, “It is welcome news to see more female students starting civil engineering degree programmes but much more needs to be done to ensure that students take up the hugely diverse and creative range of engineering jobs when they finish their studies.” Fernandes added, “Overall, the engineering profession needs to work together to get the message out that it is a great time to be an engineer: Demand far outstrips supply, salaries are rising and there are many exciting and cutting-edge career prospects for tomorrow’s engineers.”

Manpower CEO Optimistic Tech Can Help Women “Correct Workplace Gender Imbalances.”

CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Gilchrist, Roth) reports online that ManpowerGroup CEO Jonas Prising told CNBC in a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, “Developments in technology can give women a chance to ‘leapfrog’ their male counterparts and correct workplace gender imbalances.” Prising pointed to “the ability of technology to improve efficiencies, facilitate learning and increase flexibility in the way we work,” which he said could “allow women to develop new skills and build on their typically higher education levels.”

Global Developments

SpaceX Internet Satellite Project Could Be Lucrative.

TIME Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Kelleher) reports SpaceX is forging ahead with plans to launch new satellites, not allowing former rocket launch setbacks to interfere with longtime telecom goals to initiate Internet broadband by satellite. After investigating a September 2016 rocket explosion, SpaceX “launched a Falcon 9 on Jan. 14, deployed 10 satellites, and successfully re-docked the rocket booster at sea.” The new satellites are a part “of the 70 such units that SpaceX is putting into orbit for Iridium, which is upgrading its satellite network offering phone and Internet broadband service.” The commonly held goal is a costly, risky project, but some companies’ efforts are showing promise. HughesNet and Exede have launched semi-successful ventures, but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk hopes to “dwarf them all.” SpaceX filed an application in November with the FCC “to launch 4,425 satellites into orbits between 690 and 825 miles above the Earth.” Musk said the Internet project will take over five years and 10 billion dollars to achieve, but it could be highly profitable.

Australia’s AGL To Build $340 Million Wind Farm.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Kaye) reports that AGL Energy Ltd, Australia’s No. 2 energy retailer, will build a $338 million “wind farm in the first construction project for a new renewable energy-focused fund, backed by the government.” Reuters explains that AGL “set up the $1 billion Powering Australian Renewables Fund (PARF) last year, with 80 percent of the equity provided by Australia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund, and Queensland state’s QIC.” Reuters says “the Australian arm of GE said it will supply 58 massive wind turbines for the project, and will work with engineering firm CATCON to build the wind farm.” AGL said that “once complete in 2018, the Silverton wind farm will generate about a fifth of the fund’s target of 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy, or 4 percent of the energy needed to meet the Australian government’s renewables target for 2020.”

Chinese CEOs Conclude Cooperation With US Companies Is The Best Way Forward.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18) reports that after meeting with senior executives of IBM, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., General Electric Co., and Cisco Systems Inc., in Davos, Switzerland, some of the 13 chief executive officers of Chinese state-owned enterprises concluded that “cooperation between Chinese and U.S. companies is the only way forward amid rising economic uncertainty and geopolitical risks.” Bloomberg adds that the “meeting came one day after Chinese President Xi Jinping urged global business and political elites to reject trade wars and protectionism, in his first public rebuttal of the policies advocated by incoming U.S. leader Donald Trump.”

Industry News

Continued Coverage: South Korean Court Denies Prosecutors’ Application To Arrest Samsung’s Lee.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Lee, Kong) reports the Seoul Central District Court judge Cho Eui-yeon has denied prosecutors’ application to arrest Samsung’s Jay Y. Lee on alleged bribery, perjury, and embezzlement charges, saying that it is “difficult to acknowledge the necessity and justification for an arrest at this stage.” The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Jeong, Subscription Publication) reports prosecutors are disappointed with the court’s decision – indicating an arrest was consistent with the prosecutors’ assessment of the charges against Lee – but that they intend to continue the investigation without interruption.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Reuters, Subscription Publication) reports Lee had been detained overnight following his Wednesday meeting with special prosecutors to discuss his alleged involvement in the ongoing corruption scandal, and he was released following the court’s decision to deny the application for his arrest. According to Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18), Samsung Group said in an emailed statement, “We appreciate the fact that the merits of this case can now be determined without the need for detention.”

CNET News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18) and The Verge Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18) also report this story.

Engineering and Public Policy

Trump Considers “Anti-intellectual” David Gelernter As Science Adviser.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Kaplan) “Speaking of Science” blog reports President-elect Donald Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer indicated “computer scientist David Gelernter, a Yale University professor who has decried the influence of liberal intellectuals on college campuses, is being considered for the role of the Donald Trump’s science adviser,” reporting Gelernter “met with the president-elect at Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday.” The Post says “the leaders of some two dozen scientific societies sent a letter to the president-elect urging him to quickly appoint a science adviser and offering to meet with him to discuss science in the new administration,” but American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) CEO Rush Holt said that “letter was ‘noted’ by Trump’s transition team, but the group never received any other response.” The article highlights the peculiarity of Trump’s consideration of Gelernter, citing his lack of membership in scientific communities.

Army Allowed To Begin Environmental Study Of Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Henry) reports that US District Judge James Boasberg is allowing the US Army Corps of Engineers to begin a potentially lengthy environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline over objections from the developer Energy Transfer Partners. ETP had asked the judge to block an Environmental Impact Statement Review while its lawsuit over the project moves forward. The Army said on Wednesday that it began the process of assessing the pipeline’s impact on North Dakota’s environment.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18) reports the Energy Department said the study could take two years to complete. ETP asked Boasberg to rule on whether the company already has the necessary federal permissions to finish the last stretch of pipeline under Lake Oahe. The Army says that all necessary steps have not yet been completed, including an easement to work on federal land and the notification of Congress. The Army’s Federal Register notice said it is accepting public comments until February 20 on “potential issues, concerns and reasonable alternatives” for the project.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18) also reports that the arrests related to the protests over construction has surpassed 600. The Morton County Sheriff’s Office arrested 16 people on Monday and Tuesday in confrontations with police near the main encampment. Since August, 603 people have been arrested.

Chao Could Spur IT Spending At DOT.

Bloomberg Government Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Criste) reports Transportation Secretary nominee Elaine Chao bolstered IT spending during her time as Labor Secretary during the George W. Bush Administration, and Bloomberg suggests a similar trend could happen when she takes over DOT. Chao spoke of the importance of working with the tech industry during her January 11 confirmation hearing in which she “she emphasized new technologies, including autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and drones, as well as the department’s responsibility to address the safety of citizens without dampening innovation.” However, Bloomberg does point out that DOT’s IT contract obligations are “more than twice the overall government’s share,” while Labor’s contract obligations were noticeably below the government average prior to Chao taking her post in 2001.

Elementary/Secondary Education

High School In Texas Offers Aerospace Engineering Program.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18) reports that at the Academy of Technology, Engineering, Math & Science (ATEMS) – which is part of the Abilene Independent School District in Abilene, Texas – “aerospace engineering, a subspecialty within the engineering track at the specialized high school…was launched this year.” The Challenger Learning Center, hosted by the TSTC campus in Waco, will also “host students from the Brownwood Independent School District in February.” The AP also notes “the school’s participation in the Texas High School Aerospace Scholars program.”

Participants In Florida Cyber Contest Represent Eight-Fold Boost In Participation History.

The Pensacola (FL) News Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18) reports, “When this year’s edition of CyberThon launches Friday at the National Naval Aviation Museum and National Flight Academy at Pensacola Naval Air Station, participants of the three-day cybersecurity event will represent a more than eightfold boost in the contest’s brief history.” Global Business Solutions CEO Randy Ramos “said the event’s growth signifies the rising prominence of cyber defense in Northwest Florida. He expects multiple economic players to continue collaborating in efforts such as CyberThon to nurture the region’s talent pipeline.” The News Journal adds, “In 2015, the event’s first year, 18 students participated, but Ramos expects about 146 students this weekend.”

DeVos-Founded Charter School Teaches Aviation Across The Curriculum.

The Detroit Free Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Jesse) carries a story originally published June 29, 2014, on the West Michigan Aviation charter high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which combines “aviation with a more traditional high school curriculum.” It makes use of “aviation across all content areas” to support its overall focus on STEM subjects. School CEO Patrick Cwayna said, “We can do so much for students because they are coming for a purpose.” It was founded by Dick DeVos, at the urging of his wife Betsy. The school is 22% female and 33% minority, and “DeVos is proud of the diversity at the school,” the article says.

Education Groups Promote Digital Tools To Aid Shift To Online Assessments.

Education Week Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18) “Digital Education” blogger Leo Doran says, “Despite evidence that some students perform better on paper and pencil versions, and technical difficulties in some states online testing continues to grow in K-12. In response…education groups have released resources to help schools make the transition.” Doran notes that earlier this month, “CoSN, a consortium of ed tech school officials, AASA, the School Superintendents Association, and NSBA…jointly issued a report this month touting what they argue are the ‘direct benefits’ of online assessments.” The report’s release “coincided with the launch of online tools aimed at helping shepherd schools toward planning and executing a shift to online assessments.” The blog mentions that the NEA supports these online tools.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

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