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DeVos Announces New Rules On Campus Sexual Assault; New Bill Tries To Simplify Financial Aid

LA Johnson/NPR

You're reading NPR's weekly roundup of education news.

New rules on college campus sexual assault and harassment

In an overhaul to Title IX, the Department of Education proposed new regulations on Friday for schools dealing with allegations of sexual assault and harassment. The draft rules narrow the definition of sexual harassment and bolster the rights of accused students.

Victims' rights groups say that the rules discourage students from reporting harassment and assault – and they make it easier for allegations to go ignored. But some higher education leaders see these as welcome updates. They believed that Obama-era guidelines were too broad.

The new rules spell out the conditions that must be met before schools are obligated to respond to complaints. And, while Obama-era guidelines instructed schools to use "a preponderance of evidence" as proof of allegations, the new regulations allow schools to choose whether they will instead require a higher standard: "clear and convincing evidence." The standards for students must now match those for employees and faculty.

The new rules now head into a public comment period.

Peer pressure is used to reduce sexual violence in schools

As we reported this week, since the #MeToo movement, six states have introduced or passed bills that require consent be taught in their sex education classes. One approach being evaluated for effectiveness is called "positive social norms."

Over the last two decades, research on college campuses has shown, for example, that giving students the facts about their peers reduces unsafe drinking. Positive social norms works because of a basic truth of human nature: People want to do what others are doing.

Now, that research is starting to be applied to a novel area: preventing sexual assault and harassment.

"One of the most effective and powerful ways of encouraging young people to make healthy decisions is to know the truth about their friends," Alan Berkowitz, a psychologist and expert on preventing sexual assault, told NPR. "Because in fact most of their friends are healthy."

More students are using Pell Grants over the summer

Community colleges saw a big increase in summer enrollment in 2018, according to a survey from the American Association of Community Colleges. Particularly, they found that 83 percent of responding schools saw more Pell Grant recipients taking summer courses. This comes after the federal government reinstated the option for student to receive Pell Grants year-round in order to allow the grants to cover summer tuition. When the program was cut by the Obama administration, many colleges were worried it would negatively impact completion rates and enrollment.

Bill in Congress aims to simplify federal financial aid

A new bipartisan bill would allow the IRS and the Education Department to share student data, to help simplify the application for federal student aid (also known as the FAFSA). The proposed bill attempts to cut down on the amount of students who are flagged for verification, having to produce additional documentation from the IRS in order to receive federal aid.

California wildfires bring climate change lessons

While Pepperdine University in Southern California chose to " shelter in place" during the Woolsey Fire this week, harmful levels of smoke closed schools across Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Monica, San Francisco and the North Bay Area, as well as the campuses of Sacramento State University and UC Davis.

Meanwhile in San Jose, hundreds joined in a gathering called the Youth Climate Action Summit, organized by and for high school students at the Tech Museum of Innovation. They took part in a mock U.N. climate summit and a virtual trip to the Galapagos. Schoolsare increasingly seeking these kinds of partnerships to teach about climate change. ( Nationwide fewer than half of teachers have any formal instruction in the subject)

Foster kids struggle, says new report

A new national report finds that half of all youth in foster carehave experienced three or more foster care placements, and half age out of the system rather than either reuniting or being connected with a new family. By age 21, they reported significantly lower rates of high school completion and employment. This from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Last year we reportedon a program in Seattle that saw 89 percent of foster-care-involved students graduate high school with comprehensive mentoring.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.
Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.