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Opponents of new advice standard still pushing for repeal

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A new rule that raises financial advice standards remains in the crosshairs of opponents, with efforts to overturn it continuing in Congress.

Last week, a House committee approved a measure that would repeal the so-called fiduciary rule — which obligates financial advisors to act in the best interest of clients when it comes to their retirement accounts — and replace it with one allowing disclosures of potential conflicts of interest. Legislators are also working on a draft bill that would not only would adopt a disclosure-based standard but would apply it to all retail accounts, not just retirement money.

Critics of both measures say they do little to prevent investments from being sold that are more beneficial to advisors than to their clients.

Financial advisor

The bills are “designed to create the impression that they’re doing something to protect investors even as they strip away protections,” said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America.

“Instead of requiring advisors to avoid, rein in and appropriately deal with conflicts of interest, they’re saying, ‘We’ll deal with those conflicts through disclosure alone,’” Roper said.

Additionally, a draft spending bill that would eliminate funding for enforcement of the regulation also made it out of committee last week. Past defunding efforts have failed.

Since June 9, when the new advice rule took effect, financial advisors are required to charge no more than reasonable compensation, avoid misleading statements and provide advice that’s in the best interest of the investor when it comes to 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts. On Jan. 1, 2018, other provisions will take effect, including specific written disclosures that financial services firms and advisors must provide to clients.

Fiduciary rule

With the current congressional efforts to repeal the DOL rule falling along party lines — Republicans support it, Democrats don’t — it’s unclear whether either replacement bill would make it through both the House and the Senate.

The Affordable Retirement Advice for Savers Act, which was approved by the Committee on Workforce and Education, will head to a full House vote (although another committee might also review it). The draft bill, by Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., was recently discussed in a subcommittee hearing but has yet to be formally introduced.

Much of the battle has centered on the $7.85 trillion in IRAs, which are moneymakers for financial services firms as investors often move their 401(k) savings into those accounts when they retire or switch jobs.

Opponents of the DOL rule say it’s the smallest of those IRAs that are cause for concern. Various testimony supplied to Congress has centered on low-balance accounts losing access to advice completely due the associated compliance cost.

“We are grateful that Congress remains active on this issue,” said Jen Flitton, managing director of federal government relations for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, in a statement. She added that her group is “especially supportive” of Wagner’s draft bill. SIMFA was among those who provided testimony during the subcommittee hearing.

The Labor Department, which is charged with enforcing the new advice rule, had delayed its original April 10 start date after President Donald Trump called on the agency to provide an economic and legal analysis of the regulation. Earlier this month, regulators asked for public input by Aug. 7 on various aspects of the new standard, including its costs and benefits.

Now, various industry groups are asking the agency to delay the Jan. 1, 2018, effective date for the remainder of the rule.

“We are grateful that Congress remains active on this issue. said, managing director of federal government relations for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association”
-Jen Flitton, managing director, Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association

Meanwhile, a law that requires brokers to act in clients’ best interest took effect July 1 in Nevada. Already, advisors who meet the state’s definition of a financial planner already were obligated to meet that standard if they want to do business there.

Nevada state Sen. Aaron Ford, who introduced the bill earlier this year, said he was concerned by efforts at the federal level to prevent the DOL rule from taking effect.

“At the end of the day, if the federal government protects its citizens as it should, other states won’t have to do what Nevada did,” Ford said.

Sarah O'Brien


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Balancing family, work and education

HILLSDALE – It’s an age-old dilemma. To advance professionally, often one must attend schooling at either a technical institute or a college to attain training. However, earning a degree might seem insurmountable because of the demands of a current job and family life.

Experts say that more education is not only advantageous, but necessary in certain industries, particularly where technology is changing the playing field.

For instance, Hannah Hughes, Dean of Nursing at Strayer University (an online university), points out that the impact of technology on healthcare continues to evolve the practice of nursing, and there is currently a technology skills gap among some nurses.

“Today’s nurses should be preparing themselves to operate in this dynamic technologically-rich environment,” Hughes said in a StatePoint Media press release.

Locally, Jackson College Nursing Instructor Jennifer Wheeler said it’s fun to talk about how exciting nursing is and will continue to be for students well into the future.

“I love technology,” she said. “The newly developed ways of delivering nursing education using classroom technology make me feel like many do when they get the latest game console or a new pair of virtual reality glasses. I get so excited to use electronic tools that help students make connections to their course work through active learning.”

Wheeler added that classroom technology tools help to transition long lecture days into fun, active hours of meaningful learning.

“Through High-Fidelity, Low-Fidelity, Web-based or digital clinical simulations, the faculty at JC work very hard to fill gaps that are known to exist between nursing education and the clinical environment,” Wheeler said. “At Jackson College, we promote nursing excellence by providing the most up-to-date methods of education using an entire arsenal of active participation techniques.”

Hughes notes that like many industries, advanced degrees and certifications in nursing can have a high impact on career advancement, enhancing one’s credibility, marketability and earning potential.

But getting there can be a challenge when trying to create a good life study balance, said recent nursing graduate Sierra Prasser of Hillsdale.

Prasser, 22, graduated from Jackson College May 6. During the rigorous process of managing a study and work schedule, she was also married June 25, 2016.

“The two-year program was rigorous and after the first year, I was planning a wedding,” Prasser said. “It was a stressful time, but I had to focus one day at a time and by the grace of God, I got through. I made lists of what I had to do each day.”

While attending school, she worked at Hillsdale Hospital part time and also did part-time work at the home health care agency, Embrace Your Health.

She recently completed the NCLEX board nursing exam and is now working full time as a registered nurse at Hillsdale Hospital.

Her advice is to take advantage of the educational support systems provided by your school, such as tutoring, writing assistance, career services and technical support.

Creating your own support networks can go a long way when preparing for exams, she added.

“Study groups help because they offer things you may not comprehend or may not have thought about,” Prasser said. “All brains working together are best.”

She also suggests identifying short study windows by maximizing downtime whenever you have it.

“Create a schedule for yourself and look at windows of when you have some time off from work,” she said.

Wheeler suggests selecting a program wisely. Look for programs designed to make it easy for busy, working people to earn degrees. For example, Jackson College offers the flexibility to learn online or in a classroom and students have advisors to help them balance responsibilities.

Wheeler said it’s also important to stay up-to-date in your field. For example, nurses can brush up on healthcare information, as well as understand how changes to healthcare policy will impact the way they deliver care.

“It’s critical for students to research industry needs when trying to determine a path for personal practice,” Wheeler said.

Prasser’s advice is to laugh often. She notes it’s helpful to keep your sense of humor as you take on another responsibility.

“Laughter definitely helps,” Prasser said. “That, and spending time with family.”

Overall, Prasser said having a degree offers greater job satisfaction and earning potential, and with the right program and study habits, it can be a manageable challenge.



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Open University under investigation after it emerges that Cuban students are banned from institution

Under US law, it is illegal for American companies to trade with Cuba, but British companies are protected from having to comply with this under special “antidote” laws.

Ministers have been urged to intervene and to force the Open University, which provides distance-learning courses to both British and overseas students, to reverse its ban – which will cause embarrassment to the Government at a time when they are trying to forge closer links to Cuba within higher education.

Earlier this year, Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan MP met with Cuba’s Vice Minister of Higher Education to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to “boost bilateral cooperation in higher education, research and teaching of English”. 

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SCAD’s Paula Wallace Relays Insights From a Career in Education


Saving the Mall


WWD Staff

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College ready to help teachers of the future

OLDHAM Sixth Form College is to help train teachers of the future and support existing ones to become great leaders.

The college, which is rated as “good” by Ofsted, will become a Designated Teaching School from September.

Children and Families Minister Robert Goodwill made the announcement during a visit to the college to present it with a social mobility award.

OSFC won the accolade at the recent Educate North Social Awards for its work to raise the aspirations of Oldham students and make sure they get the grades need for university.

Mr Goodwill said: “Improving social mobility means raising every student’s aspirations and making sure they get the best education, advice, and encouragement to achieve their full potential, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Too many students from disadvantaged backgrounds do not enter higher education, which allows them to deepen their knowledge and give them access to rewarding careers. I congratulate OSFC for winning the Educate North Social Mobility Award, for its work to raise aspirations among secondary pupils and support progression to further and higher education, including the University of Manchester and top performing universities.

“This is why I’m delighted to announce that OSFC is becoming a Designated Teaching School, which will support teachers and educational leaders from across Oldham. It is the mission of every teacher to improve pupils’ lives and outcomes, and I’m so pleased OSFC will be spearheading that mission here in Oldham.”

Launched in 2011, there are now almost 700 teaching schools. Their role includes providing initial teacher training, staff development, working with struggling schools and developing future leaders.

The college is also becoming part of a multi-academy trust with Hathershaw College secondary school and OSFC principal Jayne Clarke added: “We are delighted that the Department for Education has approved our bid to become a teaching school.

“As we move forward in September to establish a multi academy trust, we are now in a strong position to work even more closely with other schools and colleges for the overall benefit of young people in Oldham and the local area.”

OSFC has a strong record of helping disadvantaged students go on to higher education: 70 per cent of OSFC’s disadvantaged students who left in 2015 did so compared to 36 per cent across all colleges. And 10 per cent went to a top Russell Group university, compared to an average of three per cent.

Richard Lee, the college’s associate director for transition and skills, said: “Over a prolonged period of time, OSFC has dedicated itself to enhancing the life opportunities of young people in Oldham.

“We see no reason, despite challenging economic circumstances, why students from Oldham cannot achieve outcomes that will allow them to progress firstly to university and secondly to the very best universities.”

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Our Q&A with Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize winner and education advocate

Malala Yousafzai holds flowers after speaking in Birmingham, England, in 2014. (Rui Vieira/Associated Press)

This story originally appeared in The Lily, a publication of The Washington Post.

In the past two weeks, Malala Yousafzai turned 20, graduated high school, joined Twitter and set off on a summer-long trip throughout the world to meet with young girls and help them fight for their right to education. The Girl Power Trip is taking Yousafzai through North America, Latin America, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

She answered these questions for The Lily over email after spending time in Nigeria, the country with the highest number of out-of-school girls in the world.

The Lily: Whose idea was the Girl Power Trip, and why did you want to make it happen? How did you choose which countries and communities to visit? What portion of the trip are you most looking forward to? Could you highlight issues in specific countries that prevent girls from attending school? Were any of them a surprise to you?

Malala Yousafzai: I worked on the Girl Power Trip with the team at Malala Fund. We wanted to do this trip because the reasons girls are out of school vary between regions and countries. This is a complex problem without a single solution, but I believe we can see every girl in school in my lifetime.

In the Iraq and Kurdistan, violent conflict and wars have forced many girls to flee their homes — and their schools. In Nigeria, government spending on education is so low; millions of girls live in poverty and can’t afford private schools. They have dreams to be bankers and nurses  —  but instead they’re out of school and working low-paying jobs.

Next I’ll be making my first visit to Latin America and I’m excited about that. It’s the only continent in the world where child marriage is increasing instead of decreasing. That really surprised me. Teen pregnancy is also a big problem.

Girls are de-prioritized all over the world — in big and smaller ways. In some communities, girls don’t even have access to working restrooms at school, forcing them to choose between their dignity and privacy or their education.

TL: Since circumstances are different in each community, what advice do you typically give to girls trying to get an education?

MY: The Girl Power Trip is really about me listening to girls  —  hearing their stories and the challenges they face in going to school. I do try to encourage them, but they don’t need my advice. They have faced incredible hardships like child marriage, wars and poverty  —  and they’re still so determined to go to school.

I can stand with them and support them, but they don’t need me or anyone to tell them how to fight for their rights. They’re already fighting.

TL: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten amid the hardships you’ve faced pursuing an education?

MY: I often say that I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is the story of many girls. I think realizing that you’re not alone, that you are standing with millions of your sisters around the world is vital.

TL: Throughout your advocacy  —  and on the Girl Power Trip stops so far  —  you’ve likely met countless young girls and women who have had a difficult time trying to attain an education. What’s one story that you will never forget?

MY: I’ve been campaigning for girls’ education since I was 11 years old. And I’ve met many, many brave girls on my travels around the world.

I carry them all with me every day. But right now I am thinking of a girl I just met in Kurdistan. Her name is Najla and she’s a Yazidi girl. When she was a young teenager, her family wanted her to get married. She ran away from home in her wedding dress! She told me, “I left my high heels because I couldn’t run in them.”

She was ostracized from her family but still able to go to school. Then ISIS came to her village. They shot at her as she fled and hit her in the hand. She showed me the scar where the bullet hit her.

Today she lives in a concrete shell of an unfinished building without electricity or running water. She walks over an hour to school. But she’s happy to be free and back in a classroom. These are the incredible things girls will do to get an education and choose their future for themselves.

Malala Yousafzai in a group discussion with some of the students at Yerwa Girls School in Maiduguri, Nigeria, on July 18. (Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)

TL: You’re a passionate education advocate leading an organization and a full-time student. What do you do for fun when you have time to relax?

MY: I read a lot and go out with my friends. I also try to have fun with my little brothers, but it often ends up in arguments and fights!

TL: What has been the hardest part about living in the U.K. as opposed to your home country of Pakistan? Do you keep in touch with your friends? Were many of them able to complete school and pursue college?

MY: It took me a while to adjust to the new environment and culture in the U.K. When I first started school here, I didn’t know if I would make any friends or if anyone would feel comfortable talking to me. But I’ve made great friends and they’ve helped me have a normal life.

I do talk to my friends in Pakistan as well, especially my best friend Moniba. I hope we will be reunited in our hometown someday.

TL: Where will you be attending college, and what do you hope to study?

MY: I won’t know about my university acceptance until later in the summer. I plan to study philosophy, politics and economics.

TL: What is your favorite book or who is your favorite author?

MY: My favorite book is “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.

Recently I read “Stolen Girls” by Wolfgang Bauer, in preparation for my Girl Power Trip stop in Nigeria. “Stolen Girls” tells the stories of brave and resilient women and girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

TL: You’re a role model for so many people, young and old. Who is someone you look up to and why?

MY: My parents. When I was 17, someone asked me, “Who would you have been if you were just an ordinary girl from the Swat Valley?” I said that I am an ordinary girl from Swat Valley. But if I had an ordinary father and an ordinary mother, I would have two children by now.

My parents didn’t think I was less than my brothers because I’m a girl. My father Ziauddin says, “Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings.”

TL: You’ve written a blog and a book and continue to write for your website. Do you keep a personal journal to document your life?

MY: I try to. But my schoolwork and my travels with Malala Fund keep me from writing as much as I’d like. As school is finished now, I might start writing in my personal journal more often.

TL: What was the best thing that happened to you on your birthday?

MY: The night before my birthday, I went to an amusement park in Kurdistan with girls from camps for internally displaced people. Girls in this region — Iraqi, Kurdish, Yazidi, Christian — they have all suffered so much in their young lives. It was great to see them forget their fears for a while and laugh and enjoy the rides.

One of the girls brought a 6-year-old orphan boy named Yusef with her. Even though it was an outing for girls, I think he had the most fun.

Read more:

In Pakistan’s Swat Valley, Malala’s peace prize seen as slap at Taliban

International Women’s Day 2017: 5 women changing their world for the better

Research shows young girls are less likely to think of women as ‘really, really smart’

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Kathy Byron column: Credentials offer a path to the middle class

In the classic 1967 film “The Graduate,” Mr. McGuire famously gives Ben this piece of career advice: “I want to say one word to you … just one word: plastics.”

That was 50 years ago. Yet, my advice to people looking for a good job today would also be one word: credentials.

Industry-recognized credentials are earned when a person passes a competency test certifying he or she has the skills necessary to succeed in a certain profession. Think of computer network specialists, welders, medical records technicians, pharmacy technicians, industrial machinery mechanics, and manufacturing technicians.

Today, there are literally hundreds of these specialized credentials, certifications, and licensures. What they have in common is specialized training that meet the needs of specific occupations. These “middle skills” jobs require more than a high school education, but less than a college degree. According to the National Skills Coalition, over 49 percent of all Virginians’ jobs require middle skills.

Passing these skills assessments requires training programs typically lasting two to four months and costing an average of $3,000. Obtaining these credentials is an entry to a career pathway where starting salaries can exceed more than $50,000 annually and include benefits. They provide an entry into a high-demand field that can support a very high quality of life.

The current needs of Virginia businesses indicate the “bachelors or bust” education model is inadequate to fulfilling our economy’s workforce needs. While there will always be a need for some of the population to complete four-year and even post-graduate programs, our focus must shift to integrated degrees and industry-recognized credentials.

What’s driving these certifications is the overwhelming need for companies to find skilled employees. A study by Burning Glass Technologies in 2015 found 175,000 of these skilled jobs went unfilled for more than 30 days. This is evidence of a major problem in Virginia: people unemployed because they don’t have the skills needed by the employers.

Whether you are the parent of a high school student, a young adult struggling to find a meaningful job, or an older worker looking to transition to a new career, take the first step by educating yourself about industry-recognized credentials and training programs. These prosperous alternative pathways are the right fit for a large number of our citizens.

Fortunately, Virginia demonstrated foresight when it enacted bipartisan legislation — sponsored by Sen. Frank Ruff and me — establishing the New Economy Workforce Credential Program.

Qualified Virginians can benefit from this program by enrolling in an approved noncredit program in a high-demand field. Students will have to pay only a third of the cost — with a $3,000 cap — as long as they complete the program and obtain the industry credential. Virginia was the first state in the nation to adopt this type of “pay for performance” workforce program.

A large number of these courses are now being offered through Virginia’s community colleges and the early results are impressive. Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently announced that 2,173 individuals were awarded credentials in the first year through community colleges. Another 2,095 individuals earned credentials through other means, bringing the total number of credentialed Virginians last year to nearly 5,000.

Virginia will continue to scale up for additional courses and funding in the coming year. In fact, the number of high-demand credentials earned by Virginians since the program launched represents more than a 180 percent increase when compared to last year. People who couldn’t afford these programs a year ago are now receiving the training they need to compete for good jobs.

The program is also a big winner for the state. Economic development is built on a strong workforce. The New Economy Workforce Credential Program is just the beginning of an educational transformation that will help Virginia better compete for the jobs of tomorrow and prepare the talent needed today.

So, the next time you run into a person needing career advice on finding a good job, tell them just one word: credentials.

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Duval Board discusses whether to join challenge to new education law – Florida Times

The Duval School Board stopped short of voting Wednesday to sue the state, challenging the constitutionality of a sweeping new education law which will force some public schools to close while giving more money and power to charter schools.

Instead, Board members agreed to ask the city’s Office of General Counsel to explore the particulars involved if the district were to sue on its own or to join a lawsuit two other Florida districts which have said they would file.

Board members want to know the possible cost of litigation, including whether the General Counsel’s office would participate, and what their strongest legal arguments are before they vote to sue, said Paula Wright, Board chairwoman

The new law, House Bill 7069, will shorten the time struggling public schools have to turn around, forcing them to either close or be taken over by charter school companies. The law also sets aside money to bring in “schools of hope” charter schools to locate in or near the closed schools.

At least six Duval district schools are in danger of closing or being taken over because of the law, district officials said. Two of them are in immediate danger, although it is unlikely any would be closed this school year, which begins Aug. 14.

“This isn’t just a northwest (Jacksonville) issue; this is a city-wide issue which will impact multiple neighborhoods and schools,” said Board member Rebecca Couch.

Board members seemed split about whether to sue now.

Wright said it’s important for Duval’s school leaders to send a message to state legislators that the district will fight for its schools.

“What do we say to our children who think their schools are going to close,” Wright asked. “We can’t afford to be supporting (the new law) through our lack of action. It’s already costing us money… We’re wasting too much time and we’re not signaling that this is important.”

But Board members Scott Shine and Couch said they worry that a lawsuit will draw retaliation from state legislators and education officials, who control public school purse strings.

“Beware if suddenly we don’t get the grants we apply for,” Couch said.

Shine said most legislators didn’t know the ramifications of the education law before they voted on it, but they were pressured by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land ‘O Lakes and powerful legislative committee leaders, who control the fate of most Tallahassee bills. Suing the state, Shine said, will only worsen the ongoing fight between Corcoran and statewide teachers unions, putting Duval in a vulnerable position.

“If I thought that litigation would work, I’d be on that like a bad rash,” Shine said. “But I don’t believe it will help us.”

If other districts’ lawsuits are successful, Duval could still benefit, Shine said.

Board member Lori Hershey disagreed. “It’s time for the School Board to take a bold, strong stand and not be afraid to stand up to Tallahassee,” she said.

The law, House Bill 7069, will shorten the time struggling public schools have to turn around, forcing them to either close or be taken over by charter school companies. The law also sets aside money to bring in “schools of hope” charter schools to locate near these closed schools.

In Duval County the two schools most vulnerable to closing are Matthew Gilbert and Northwestern middle schools. Those with a little more time include Lake Forest, George Washington Carver and Arlington Heights elementary schools and Arlington middle school, district officials said.

Even Ribault Middle, which dropped out of danger this year with a C grade, could fall back in if it doesn’t earn another C or better this year, they said.

Critics of the new law say it strips constitutional authority away from school districts and from local governments to provide even limited oversight of charter schools and where they locate.

The law doesn’t require that charter schools of hope serve all the students whose schools were closed, Wright said, which means districts must bus dozens of disenfranchised students across town for school.

The law’s proponents say that district public schools have had more than enough time; now charter schools deserve the funding and the chance to serve the struggling students.

Board Vice Chairwoman Ashley Smith Juarez vowed to fight to keep schools open, saying she will stand in the doors of an endangered school if necessary to keep it open. She dared state Rep. Jason Fischer and other legislators to come to Jacksonville and try to move her.

She also proposed that the Duval Board issue a new resolution, condemning the new law and explaining specifically how it will affect Duval County. Most Board members agreed on that.

Wright also vowed to hold community forums about the new law. Details are coming soon.

The education law, dubbed House Bill 7069, also makes sweeping changes to the way charter schools are financed, including some measures which will steer millions of dollars away from public school districts and straight to charter schools. The law also contains measures which will exempt charter schools from some restrictions traditional public schools face.

The law sets aside millions of dollars to open “schools of hope,” which are specially designated charter schools which will open in areas where traditional public schools will be forced to close. The bill significantly shortens how much time F-rated and D-rated public schools have to turn themselves around before they can be forced to close or be taken over by charter school companies.

The new law also lets charter schools bypass county school districts and local zoning laws to open, and it allows some charter schools to become local education agencies, with some of the same powers as public school districts.

The bill also contained other, less controversial measures, such as a mandate that children must have 20 minutes of recess each day. Even that requirement pertains to regular public schools, not charter schools.

So far two districts, Broward and St. Lucie counties, have voted to sue the state, and several more have held School Board discussions about it.

According to the Tampa Bay Times: The Pinellas County School Board just discussed challenging the constitutionality of HB 7069 and Alachua County School Board members recently supported the lawsuit, though at least one member recommended concentrating on the new school year first. Sarasota County, Manatee and Palm Beach counties also reportedly are considering it.

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Readers Write: ‘Postsecondary education for non-dummies,’ sickness and dying, John Roberts’ advice to graduates, a …

Katherine Kersten’s thought-provoking examination of job opportunities awaiting graduates of technical colleges and training programs (Opinion Exchange, July 16) happened to follow hard on the heels of a discussion I had with parents of a student enrolled in a four-year college degree program that promises to lead directly to long-term underemployment and extended occupancy of a corner in the basement of the family home.

As much as they despair over the bleak prospects of their child, whose only real misstep came in being lured into a glitzy, “fun” major, these parents are equally concerned about the student’s likely inability to repay taxpayers who provided the loans that are subsidizing this particular educational train wreck.

Unlike most conversations of this sort — and as a former high school teacher, I venture to say that they are not uncommon — our discussion involved kicking around an idea so worthy that I am now prepared to offer it for readers’ consideration.

How about conditioning schools’ participation in federal student loan programs on full disclosure of the employment rates and average beginning salaries — by major — of students who have graduated from that institution? For example, University of High Hopes would be required to present to prospective majors in electrical engineering, say, information revealing the percentage of its graduates in that major who are working as electrical engineers and at what average starting pay. Only after a prospective student has certified receiving and reviewing that information would he/she be eligible to apply for federal loan money.

Admittedly, this modest proposal isn’t a complete fix for the utterly bollixed up postsecondary education system that is too often failing our kids and our economy. But it would provide students making Really Important Choices a helpful dose of hard, cold facts. And that’s a pretty good place for the solution to begin.

Debra L. Kaczmarek, Northfield

• • •

Kersten’s commentary was spot-on. I didn’t attend a four-year college and have no student debt, make a more than comfortable salary that I raised a family with, enjoy my current lake home in the ’burbs, drive a convertible, have no debt other than my mortgage, own a timeshare in Hawaii and have disposable income for my hobbies while maintaining a good credit rating. How, you ask?

I went to trade school over college and avoided getting socially “programmed” another four years. I chose a field of high demand and did my own homework instead of blindly following my initial passion (much to the dismay of my high school guidance counselor, who literally tried to push me into a four-year college) and learned to enjoy this field. This gave me a two- or three-year head start on my peers; I entered the job market and got established and networked before they did. And the people I know who got a general liberal arts degree are still looking for a decent job.

Moral: Do your own research. Don’t let teachers or parents push you into something that may not be a good fit for you. Independent thought is a good thing for me (and for you, too).

This is not meant to be like a holidays “brag” letter. We all know that success or money does not cure all ills, but it can definitely make the “suffering” a lot easier!

Phil Awker, Maple Grove


We do not go gently, do we?

After reading D.J. Tice’s July 16 column “Charlie Gard on freedom’s frontier,” concerning the “right to try” and “right to die,” I somehow turned to the obituary section of the paper. There I found more than 160 entries last Sunday. Most of the obituaries simply stated that someone had died or “passed away,” then gave a brief biography. A few provided more insight into these deaths by saying the deceased “passed unexpectedly or tragically.” Others said that death came after a “courageous” or “titanic” battle with cancer or an “arduous battle with respiratory illness and chronic pain.”

Of the 160 obituaries on July 16, only 33 noted that someone had “passed peacefully” or died in her/his sleep. This is what most of us would wish for. But this society urges us to courageously fight on — and, of course, no one wants to be a coward.

What a conundrum.

Today, even those who would like to live but who are terminally ill and whose suffering has become unbearable cannot receive medical aid in dying in Minnesota. This end-of-life option, however, is available for terminally ill residents of California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and Colorado (Canada, too).

Oregon was the first (in 1997) to approve a “death with dignity” act. Over more than two decades, there have been no documented cases of abuse. In fact, about one-third of those who request the medication do not use it, suggesting, as Tice wrote, that “receiving the community’s blessing to choose for oneself [may be] comfort enough.”

Beth Molberg, Plymouth

• • •

I’d like to comment on Tice’s assertion that “it would be naive to doubt that once the right to ‘aid-in-dying’ is established, some unwell Americans might receive wrongly motivated ‘aid-in-deciding’ that their time has come — and sometimes the line between counsel and manipulation will be crossed.” As a new Minnesotan, retired nurse-practitioner and resident of Oregon for 20-plus years, I would urge Tice to review Barbara Coombs Lee’s article in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, July 2014: “Oregon’s experience with aid in dying: findings from the death with dignity laboratory.” Coombs Lee concludes that after 16 years of data, the record has made clear that the risk of harm is small when the law authorizes terminally ill, mentally competent adults to access medication they may self-administer for peaceful dying. I want that option for myself here in Minnesota, not as a means of escape, but continuing the freedom to choose, for myself as I have throughout my life, when enough is enough.

Dawn McLean, South St. Paul


Roberts hits the mark

Thank you for printing excerpts from the commencement speech recently delivered by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (“I wish you bad luck, so that you may grow,” July 16). Some may quickly criticize Roberts’ opinions due to politics, or for being a white male and giving his speech to a privileged ninth-grade graduating class in an Eastern boarding school. His son is following the generation of the millennials — noted by some for their feelings of entitlement in many aspects of their life. What will the next generation become?

Roberts seemed to give advice to each graduate in order to develop the core personal characteristics needed to achieve “the” good life. Financial success was never mentioned.

Every reader can benefit from reading this address and passing it onto their family graduates.

Tim Diegel, Naples, Fla.


A message from Australia

I just wanted to write to the people of Minneapolis to say it’s OK. As an Australian who has watched the events of the death of Justine Damond, I, and I believe many Australians, while we are upset with this event, do not hold you, the people of Minneapolis, accountable for this most tragic occurrence. The world is not a perfect place, and I understand this was the result of the actions of one person, who obviously has made a huge error in judgment and will have to live with the consequences for the rest of his life. America and Australia hold a special relationship in the world, and we have supported and backed you in both good times and bad, and I don’t think any Australian would ever want that to change. Your processes may need to be looked at and changes made so that this never ever happens again, to anyone, be they foreign or American. Every life is precious, and as Australians grieve for the loss of one of our own, we realize that you, too, are grieving. Hold your heads up high; Minneapolis has a lot to be proud of. Australia loves you.

Rob Newitt, Moonah, Tasmania, Australia

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Teens turn up the heat in annual solar car race

St. John’s car, the Green Lightning, almost missed the competition after a shipping mishap from Nassau to Florida.

The challenge’s founder and director, Lehman Marks, says that while mishaps happen, that’s part of the experience.

“We’re teaching them the ability to fail,” he said. 

While “challenge” is in the name of the race, Marks says he doesn’t view it as a competition, but rather a “cooperation.”

Tunnell said teams often help each other.  More experienced teams will give advice to newer ones and lend a hand, he said, or in some cases, a spare battery or two.

“One year, we had two teams in the lead. On the last day of the race, one team lost a tire,” Tunnell said, “and the other team helped fix it with just hours left in the race, while they could have just gone and secured a win for themselves.”

Out of the 29 schools that competed, 19 are in Texas, including the All Saints Episcopal School in Fort Worth, Southwest High School in San Antonio and Harmony Science Academy in El Paso.

On even-numbered years the teams trek cross-country. Next year, competitors will race from Fort Worth to San Jose, Calif. just on solar power.

The Solar Car Challenge, Marks said, is the only solar-powered race for high school students in the world. Some students, like those from the Bahamian school, traveled over a thousand miles to join the competition. Schools from Mexico, Puerto Rico and Canada have competed in the past.

Marks believes the challenge offers a unique opportunity to get high schoolers excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. 

“We’re hoping to mold these kids,” he said. “How can a teacher make a real impact on a student’s life if something like this only takes two months out of the year?”

Beyond the technical skills, Marks hopes students gain life skills, like public speaking and fundraising.

Many teams said that the best part is the camaraderie.

“You go through this struggle for six to seven months out of the year,” White said, “and then you get to the track and realize everyone’s been going through the same struggle as you.”

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