Leading the News
House Republicans Release HEA Authorization Bill.
Inside Higher Ed (12/4) reports that Republicans in the House have released a “massive bill...to reauthorize the federal law that governs higher education, with proposals that have serious implications for how students pay for their degrees and how colleges are evaluated.” The bill “delivers on long-held GOP priorities to roll back regulations on the for-profit and online education sectors and steers new federal money to apprenticeships and career training.” The piece says House Education and the Workforce Chairwoman Virginia Foxx has expressed her intention to “simplify the federal student aid program (partly by ending many loan repayment benefits), eliminate the gainful-employment rule and other regulations long opposed by for-profits, and more broadly seek to link federal aid eligibility to students’ ability to repay loans.”
House HEA Overhaul Would Eliminate Gainful Employment Rule, Public Service Loan Forgiveness. The Hill (12/4, Thomsen) reports that the bill to overhaul the Higher Education Act proposed by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) “would undo an Obama-era rule requiring career preparation programs at for-profit colleges actually prepare students to get jobs with incomes that allow them to pay off their student loans.” The Hill notes that the gainful employment rule is “already in the process of being redone by the Education Department,” and says that Foxx’s bill “would also prevent the department from implementing a new version of the rule.”
In a separate article, The Hill (12/4, Thomsen) reports that Foxx’s bill “would eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which erases student debt for those who work for qualifying employers after making payments for 10 years.” The Hill adds that ED “proposed eliminating the debt forgiveness program in its budget earlier this year” and that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “has overseen the elimination or rescinding of several guidances or programs within her department.”
Vanderbilt Engineering Students Working To Build Prosthetics For Needy.
WSMV-TV Nashville, TN (12/2) reports that Vanderbilt University engineering students are working to create prosthetics for “a handful of people in need.” The students have conducted a national search for candidates, and “the actual building day will take place some time in January.”
Higher Education Officials: GOP Pell Grant Plan Could Worsen Student Debt Crisis.
The Columbia (SC) State (12/4) reports that some South Carolina higher education officials are concerned that “proposed changes to the Pell Grant system” proposed by Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) “could shrink the number of students interested in higher education and add to a worsening national student debt crisis.” The Pell Performance Act “would transform the Pell system, turning grants into unsubsidized Stafford loans for students who don’t graduate six years after initially receiving the grant.” The paper reports that “local college officials said” the move “could spook students who need financial aid to afford college, many of whom are already worried about the prospect of student debt.”
Graduate Students Across Nation Protest Removal Of Tuition Waiver Exemption.
The AP (12/4, Danilova, Binkley) reports, “Graduate students around the U.S. are staging campus walk-outs and lobbying Congress in an effort to keep their tuition waivers tax-free.” Students and schools argue that “a provision in the House Republican tax bill could, as graduate student Shawn Rhoads says, ‘upend the American Ph.D. system.’” The piece explains that “many schools waive tuition as a benefit for students who work as teaching or research assistants while pursuing advanced degrees,” but the House tax bill would tax that tuition as income. The companion bill in the Senate “would keep the tuition waivers tax-free.”
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Research and Development
Researchers Working To Address Bias In Artificial Intelligence Algorithms.
Bloomberg News (12/4, Huet) reports that Timnit Gebru, a former “student at Stanford University’s prestigious Artificial Intelligence Lab” who has become concerned about racial biases that show up in AI algorithms, has “joined a Microsoft Corp. team called FATE—for Fairness, Accountability, Transparency and Ethics in AI. The program was set up three years ago to ferret out biases that creep into AI data and can skew results.” The article reports Gebru is the cofounder of “Black in AI, a group set up to encourage people of color to join the artificial intelligence field.” Bloomberg explains that “companies, government agencies and hospitals are increasingly turning to machine learning, image recognition and other AI tools to help predict everything from the credit worthiness of a loan applicant to the preferred treatment for a person suffering from cancer.”
Lockheed Martin’s AMAS Completes 55,000 Miles Of Self-Driving.
In a post for Washington Technology ’s (12/4) “WT Business Beat” blog, Nick Wakeman reports that Lockheed Martin’s Autonomous Mobility Applique System has “logged” over 55,000 miles testing self-driving capabilities. The system “works by adding on equipment like sensors, actuators and controls to tactical vehicles.” The system has both allowed manned trucks to lead robotic units and unmanned trucks to operate autonomously.
Delphi Automotive CEO Predicts The Arrival Of Robot Taxis, Delivery Cars Next Year.
In an interview with Bloomberg News (12/4, Coppola), Delphi Automotive Plc. CEO Kevin Clark on Monday forecast that autonomous vehicles, including robot taxis and delivery vehicles, “will be ready to roll next year, though the work to make them affordable to individual consumers is still ‘in the first inning.’” Clark asserted, “When you look at the commercial market – areas where you have a driver in a vehicle – there is financial incentive to use autonomous driving. ... Those customers are willing to pay a much higher price.”
Reuters (12/4, Lienert) reports Clark said his company, which is changing its name to Aptiv Inc. on Tuesday when it begins trading under the stock symbol APTV on the New York Stock Exchange, “wants to cut the cost of self-driving cars by more than 90 percent to around $5,000 by 2025.” In an interview, Clark said that “while current estimates for the cost of a self-driving hardware and software package range from $70,000 to $150,000, ‘the cost of that autonomous driving stack by 2025 will come down to about $5,000 because of technology developments and (higher) volume.’” Reuters adds Clark also predicted that “one of the biggest opportunities for cutting costs...will come as automakers, working with companies such as Delphi/Aptiv, begin to re-engineer their basic vehicle platforms specifically to accommodate electric motors, batteries and self-driving sensors.”
NASA Debuts Durable Mesh Wheel For Future Mars Rovers.
NBC News (12/4, Chow) reports that engineers at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland have designed a new wheel “that will give upcoming Mars rovers the ability to drive long distances on the Red Planet without sustaining damage.” The wheel is made of an “ultra-flexible metal mesh” that can flex and deform over rocks and irregular terrain before returning to its original shape. NASA “hopes the wheel will be more durable than the wheels” on the Curiosity rover, and said the wheel performed “impressively” in tests at the Jet Propulsion Lab’s Mars Test Life Facility. NASA Glenn Materials Scientist Santo Padula said in a NASA video, “This particular material doesn’t deform like conventional materials.” He explained, “We can actually deform this all the way down to the axle and have it return to shape, which we could never even contemplate in a conventional metal system.”
NASA Test Reactivates Voyager 1 Thrusters, May Add Years To Operational Life.
AP (12/4, Dunn) reports that NASA ground controllers sent commands “to fire backup thrusters on Voyager 1,” currently more than 13 billion miles away from Earth. The four thrusters “had been idle for 37 years, since Voyager 1 flew past Saturn,” but “came alive” after the 19-hour travel time for the signals. Engineers “wanted to see if these alternate thrusters could point Voyager 1’s antenna toward Earth, a job normally handled by a different set that’s now degrading.” The thrusters will begin “pointing operations” next month, which could extend the life of Voyager 1 by “two to three years.”
US Navy’s Railgun Will “Likely Never See Combat.”
Task & Purpose (12/4, Keller) reports that the US Navy’s “much-hyped” electromagnetic railgun “will likely never see combat.” The weapon “has come under scrutiny from lawmakers and military planners thanks to the Strategic Capabilities Office” (SCO), which is more interested in other weapons. The shift in focus means that the Office of Naval Research “may end up without the necessary funding to push the exceedingly complex railgun toward a critical testing milestone,” which “could condemn the decade-long project to an inescapable limbo of research and tinkering far from any ship.” SCO spokesman Chris Sherwood said that the office “shifted the project’s focus to conventional powder guns, facilitating a faster transition of HVP technology to the warfighter.” Sherwood added that the “priority continues to be the HVP, which is reflected in the program’s budget.”
Samsung Hiring 2,500 Indian Engineering Graduates For “New Age Domains.”
The Economic Times (IND) (12/4, Basu) reports that Samsung has announced plans to hire 2,500 graduates from India’s “top engineering institutes over the next three years.” Samsung Global SVP Dipesh Shah told the Times, “A majority of these fresh hires will be for new-age domains such as Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data and biometrics.”
YouTube Hiring Humans To Teach AI How To Flag Inappropriate Content.
The New York Times (12/4, Wakabayashi, Subscription Publication) reports YouTube “is hiring more humans to teach machines how to think like humans.” According to a blog post from CEO Susan Wojcicki, YouTube plans “to add thousands of human reviewers to remove videos that violated its guidelines while teaching computers how to spot troublesome videos.” The move “comes YouTube is mired, yet again, in controversy over failing to properly police content uploaded to its site.”
BMW Targets 50 Percent Increase In EV Sales Next Year.
Bloomberg News (12/4, Behrmann) reports Klaus Froehlich, the head of research and development for BMW AG, revealed on Monday that the company is planning a 50 percent increase in the sales of plug-in hybrid and battery cars next year “to defend its position in the electric-car shift as competitors like Volkswagen AG ready their own battery lineups.” BMW is aiming to sell 150,000 cars in 2018, which also represents “a jump of about two-thirds from last year’s deliveries of green cars.” Froehlich told reporters, “We’ll definitely boost sales by a mid-double digit amount. ... This is to stay ahead of the competition that’s starting to do its own rollout.”
According to Reuters (12/4, Preisinger), the company sold 78,100 of these vehicles in the first 10 months of 2017. Meanwhile, BMW CEO Harald Krueger “said BMW aimed to keep its return on sales around 8 to 10 percent even with the added costs of developing electric cars.”
Amazon’s Alexa Named Technology Of The Year.
Retail Dive (12/4) has named Amazon’s Alexa the “Technology of the Year,” and cites an eMarketer analysis that estimated that Amazon’s Echo speaker will attract 70.6 percent of users, while Google Home will garner 23.8 percent, and smaller players such as Lenovo, LG, Harmon Kardon and Mattel will make up the rest of the market. Meanwhile, a separate study from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners reports that about 10.7 million US Amazon customers currently have an Amazon Echo device, “with the Echo Dot now representing about 52% of all Echo devices in the market and the original Echo accounting for about 36%.”
Engineering and Public Policy
President Trump Decreases Utah Monuments Acreage.
Bloomberg News (12/4, Dlouhy, Sink) reports that on Monday in Salt Lake City, President Trump announced “that he’ll shrink two national monuments in Utah that contain stunning red-sandstone vistas, historic relics and energy resources, arguing his predecessor overstepped in protecting the land.” Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said that the President’s decision decreases the amount of protected land for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. The move “represents the most significant reduction ever to a previous president’s national monument designation” but is likely to be legally challenged by Native American and environmental groups.
The Los Angeles Times (12/4, Schneider) reports that President Trump has shrunk the acreage of two large national monuments by more than two million acres. President Trump said, “I’ve come to Utah to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights to this land to your citizens.” Zinke said that “this is about giving rural America a voice.” Zinke added, “There are not many presidents that do what he is about to do.”
Politico (12/4, Lefebvre) reports that “Trump’s efforts to change the monuments’ status started in April, when he signed an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review more than a hundred national monuments.” Zinke said the review’s report will be released Tuesday.
Utah Not Likely To Have Shale Boom. Oil Price (12/4, Cunningham) reports that as President Trump announced the plan to decrease the size of national monuments in Utah, it “could open up Utah to more oil and gas drilling.” However, “Utah is remote, and the lack of oil and gas infrastructure would make large-scale production costly.” Some oil companies have already been in Utah, as evidenced by abandoned gas wells in Bears Ears monument. Utah Division of Natural Resources Associate Director of Oil & Gas John Rogers said, “Historically, in say the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, there was some drilling out in this area, but nothing significant was found.”
Shutdowns Of Texas Coal Plants May Delay Demise Of Others.
A report by S&P Global Market Intelligence is cited by the San Antonio Express-News (12/4) in a report on the potential closure of Texas-based coal-fired power plants. S&P research found that two of the plants in question – the J.T. Deely coal plant and Spruce 1&2 plants – are uneconomical, though only the Deely plant is slated for closure, by the end of 2018.
Continuing Coverage: Company Ends Effort To Build Wind Farm Of Massachusetts Coast.
In continuing coverage the Washington Examiner (12/4, Siciliano) reports the company the Cape Wind wind farm proposed off the coast of “Massachusetts has officially given up on the nearly two-decade fight to bring it to life, saying it is better off developing other forms of energy elsewhere.” Cape Wind and Energy Management CEO Jim Gordon said in a statement, “During Cape Wind’s development period we successfully developed over a billion dollars of renewable solar and biomass energy projects and, although we were unable to bring Cape Wind to fruition, we are proud of the catalyzing and pioneering effort we devoted to bringing offshore wind to the United States.” The wind project “faced sustained opposition and court challenges orchestrated by wealthy land owners on Nantucket Sound and the fossil energy industry, Gordon said.”
Solar Company Shares Drop On Details Of Senate Tax Plan.
Bloomberg News (12/4, Martin) reports that shares of some of the biggest U.S. solar manufacturers dropped on Monday after the U.S. Senate passed a tax proposal that would “make it harder to finance renewable-energy projects” by stifling the tax-equity market. According to Goldman Sachs analyst Brian Lee, this provision would “effectively impact tax renewable credits by as much as 100 percent in certain instances, thus rendering them of little value.” He warned that the provision has “the potential to negatively impact a key source of funding for new wind/solar projects in the U.S.”
Indiana School’s “Girls Who Code” Club Shows Off Skills.
WSBT-TV South Bend, IN (12/4) reports on the “Girls Who Code” club at Riverside Intermediate School in Plymouth, Indiana, which has “been busy building games and an anti-bullying app after school.” They recently “had the chance to show off their skills to Superintendent Jennifer McCormick.” Club founder Terry Burkins said, “Most [of] these girls are really wanting to have a future in computer science.”
Coding Programs Criticized As Primarily Benefiting Tech Firms.
Kate M. Miltner, University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, writes in the AP (12/4) “The Conversation” about coding, saying it has become “received wisdom” that learning to code “is the key to the future for both children and adults.” Miltner adds, “their primary beneficiaries aren’t necessarily students or workers, but rather the influential tech companies that promote the programs in the first place.” She recounts the history of several such programs, one of which, she says, was Steve Jobs attempting to get a tax cut, while others similarly pursued the interests of tech firms, framed as an effort to improve education.
Tennessee Conference Focuses On Introducing Young Students To Careers In Cybersecurity.
Education Week ’s (12/4, Schwartz) “Digital Education” blog says a growing number of industry leaders, government officials, and educators are stressing the importance of introducing students to online security at a younger age, “in hope of encouraging their continued academic study of the topic and their awareness of careers in the field.” This week, the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), a program of the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, is hosting an event in Nashville focused on the creation of “curricular opportunities for younger students to learn the basics of networks, cryptography, and cyberethics.” The National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center’s elementary and secondary curricula and professional development instruction, which is available to districts and schools at no cost, was featured at the event. Tata Consulting’s online security mission and Learning Blade’s career explorer tool were also featured.
Oregon Awards $10.3 Million In Grants For CTE Programs.
The Salem (OR) Statesman Journal (12/4) reports Oregon’s state Career and Technical Education Revitalization Advisory Committee awarded $10.3 million in CTE Revitalization Grants, “benefitting 205 schools statewide.” The committee “reviewed 64 applications totaling $21 million in requests,” and selected recipients “based on geographic diversity, community partnerships, and programs that lead to high-wage, high-demand occupations, especially for historically underserved students.” The state also awarded a summer supplement to schools seeking to expand opportunities for children outside the school year. North Santiam School District received $376,286 “to develop curriculum, hire teachers and buy needed equipment and technology for a new five-year pathway to be implemented next year,” dubbed the Pathways to Health program. The Statesman Journal says the impact of the state CTE grants are notable, as graduation rates for students in CTE programs “are 15.5 percent higher than the statewide average.”
California Schools Participate In Global Computer Science Education Week.
EdSource (12/4) reports more than 100,000 schools across the world – including thousands of California schools “in nearly every county” – are hosting “coding lessons, assemblies and hack-a-thons as part of the annual Computer Science Education Week.” The effort is aimed at inspiring teachers “to offer ongoing coding lessons as part of the regular curriculum,” and to encourage schools to “begin offering coding classes at all grade levels.” In California, EdSource says, “several districts are already headed there.” Oakland Unified and San Francisco Unified, for example, are “using a $34.7 million donation from Salesforce” to train teachers and purchase equipment “to greatly expand their computer science course offerings.” Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a gubernatorial candidate, “announced Monday a push for California schools to offer computer science classes to all students by 2025.”
Michigan High School Launches Two-Year High School Coding Program.
The Port Huron (MI) Times Herald (12/4) reports St. Clair County Technical Education Center in Michigan recently launched its new two-year coding program, which allows high school juniors and seniors to study programming at the St. Clair County Regional Education Service Agency. The school is still developing its curriculum, and receiving approval will take about a year. Computer programming instructor Danielle Fair said the school is also “looking at adding more articulation agreements with the colleges in our area.” Career and technical education assistant director Fran McBride said she is encouraging female students in particular to pursue computer programming. McBride explained, “It is a non-traditional field for females, but there are wonderful opportunities for females.” She added, “One of our hopes is that more female students choose to sign up for the program in future years.”
Virginia Launches Computer Science Education Week By Honoring Students, Teacher.
The Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch (12/4) reports that at a ceremony on Monday, Virginia state Rep. Donald McEachin announced middle school students Alex Dunn and Sean Jackson “as the winners of the Congressional App Challenge for a meme-inspired app they created at their school to prevent bullying.” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney also named elementary school teacher Regina Farr as the “computer science educator of the year for her work in exposing her students to computer science.” The announcement was part of Computer Science Education Week, which the state “kicked off Monday with a series of events at the Science Museum of Virginia.” The Times-Dispatch notes the event “comes less than a month after the state became the first in the U.S. to adopt mandatory computer science learning standards, a move officials hope will spur both interest and knowledge in the growing field.” CodeVA, which sponsored Monday’s events, helped draft the “legislation that mandated computer science standards in Virginia classrooms.”