Weekly RoundUp: Student Loans

Fixed interest rates for student loans will soon be a thing of the past. Last week the House joined the Senate in passing a proposal that would link student loan interest rates to the financial market. According to a recent Bloomberg news article, this means “9 million undergraduates will pay 3.86 percent on their next loan.”

The passage of this bill means that the “380,000 Illinois undergrads getting ready to take out federal loans will see their interest rates drop by 3 percent as a result,” U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said in a July 26th press release, after the Senate approved the measure. The bill is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama this month. While student savings could begin as early as this fall, not everyone is lauding the student loan deal.

CU-CitizenAccess co-founder honored with campus-wide award

The co-founder and director of CU-CitizenAccess was one of three University of Illinois faculty to be honored Tuesday night with a campus-wide award aimed to highlight community engagement projects locally, nationally and globally. Brant Houston, who holds the Knight Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting in the Department of Journalism, launched CU-CitizenAccess in 2009. The award-winning online news and information service is nationally recognized for its focus on investigative and enterprise coverage of social, justice and economic issues in east Central Illinois. The Campus Award for Excellence in Public Engagement, given annually by the Office of Public Engagement, honors teams and individuals who engage the public to address critical social issues. This year a doctoral student and a team received awards along with the three faculty members.

Spot check: Campus emergency alert systems across the country

By Amy Harwath/CU-CitizenAccess — A spot check of universities across the Midwest and around the nation has revealed that four-year institutions are inconsistent in their approach to sending out emergency alerts to students and staff. Although universities automatically send out emergency notifications via school email addresses, they vary on their policies and success for text alerts. At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 28.5 percent of students receive Illini Alerts via text message. The school sends out notifications to student email accounts and campus phones, and also posts on its Facebook and Twitter pages. However, students must voluntarily sign up to receive text message alerts, referred to as an “opting-in.”

University of Florida students “are automatically enrolled in the system using their cellular telephone number provided during the ISIS course registration process,” according to the university’s alert website.

Emergency text alert system inconsistent across college campuses

By Amy Harwath/CU-CitizenAccess.org — If an emergency happens on its campus, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville gets the message out to 100 percent of its students via text message. But only about half of the students at  Iowa State University​ would receive an emergency alert via text. And less than one-third of students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign would receive an emergency notification via text message. These percentages of students who receive emergency notifications via text message reflect the inconsistent and patchwork emergency notification systems that U.S. universities and colleges use. In addition, universities vary on how they keep track of who and how many receive these alerts.

Opt-in text alert system leaves many at University of Illinois out

By Amy Harwath/CU-CitizenAccess.org — A Northern Illinois University lecture hall was the target of a mass shooting in 2008 where five persons were killed and 18 injured before the shooter took his own life. At the time of the shooting, Northern’s students had to voluntarily sign up for emergency text message alerts, which only reached up to 10 percent of the university’s students. Now, Northern is instituting a new emergency notification provider, Everbridge. The new system is not fully implemented, but roughly two-thirds of students receive emergency text messages, officials say. But the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – where the Northern Illinois shooter, Steven Kazmierczak, lived and attended graduate school at the time of the shooting – has not changed its emergency alert system to reach more students via text messages.

Building Emergency Action Plans still a work in progress

By Sean Hermann/For CU-CitizenAccess.org — Nearly 400 buildings on the University of Illinois campus at Urbana-Champaign lack the required Building Emergency Action Plans that would instruct faculty, staff and students on what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency. But campus safety officials say they are making steady progress in creating the evacuation plans for the buildings. The current Building Emergency Action Plan initiative on campus began two years ago when Lieutenant Todd Short became director of the Office of Campus Emergency Planning. Short’s goal was to update each building’s plan under the new Building Emergency Action Plan template and to centralize all emergency procedures on campus. “Regardless of the type of emergency that could occur, there are two actionable items – How do we evacuate if we need to get out of the building, and if for whatever reason we cannot evacuate, how do we secure ourselves where we are,” Short said.

Viola from Nicha Poolpol. Nonprofits face challenges generating donations during tough economic times, but marketing the importance of the arts is ongoing struggle.

Fundraising for arts not always a pretty picture

By Andrea Baumgartner/For CU-CitizenAccess.org — Champaign and Urbana nonprofits in arts education took a hard hit to funding in 2007 as the great recession began. For example, the Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation saw its revenue drop from about $310,000 to $295,000 from 2007 to 2008. Similarly, the amount of total individual donations to the Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation failed to increase as projected, remaining steady at $45,000. Since then, the foundation has been rebounding, now topping off their revenue from events, special programs and individual donations at around $400,000. But, the foundation’s executive director Gail Rost says that they are still struggling for donations.

College counseling centers face ‘perfect storm’, expert says

By Pam G. Dempsey/Investigative Journalism Education Consortium — More than 20 million college students across the nation will start school this month, just weeks after James Holmes, a Colorado graduate student, allegedly shot and killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Holmes had sought counseling from the University of Colorado at the University of Colorado and at one time, was a successful applicant to the University of Illinois. In another University of Illinois connection, Steven Kazmierczak was a student at the Urbana campus at the time of the 2008 shooting at Northern Illinois University where he shot and  killed five people. With student enrollment on the rise and with students coming in with more severe mental health issues, campus counseling centers are seeing an increase in a demand for services. Carla McCowan is director of the counseling center at the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus.

Sidebar: Behavioral Intervention Teams

By Mary Beth Versaci/For CU-CitizenAccess — A Behavioral Intervention Team is made up of representatives from offices across the University of Illinois campus meets once a week to discuss students whose behavior can be considered disruptive and concerning to the rest of the campus community. This behavior oftentimes does not require disciplinary action, but it has reached a level of concern and needs to be addressed before it escalates, said Ken Ballom, dean of students. “Becoming more aware of the student and offering support services could prevent future escalation and crisis,” Ballom said. “The role of the Behavioral Intervention Team is to review student behavior on campus that appears disruptive or destructive and intervene for safety and support.”

This team is just one requirement of the 2008 Campus Security Enhancement Act, which calls for all Illinois colleges and universities to have a violence prevention plan and threat assessment teams.

This act was developed as part of a report commissioned by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in response to the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. The University of Illinois has a Campus Violence Prevention Plan which, among other things, establishes two threat assessment teams, one for students and one for faculty, staff and members of the public.

Lack of evacuation plans leaves students, staff unprepared

By Mary Beth Versaci/For CU-CitizenAccess — On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 students in two separate attacks on the Virginia Tech campus, one in a residence hall and the other in a classroom. On Feb. 14, 2008, Steven Kazmierczak entered a lecture of about 150 students at Northern Illinois University and shot 26 people, killing five of them. If a shooter were to walk into a classroom on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, the University is ready with a campus-wide Emergency Operations Plan , but no campus mandate requires each individual campus building to have an all-hazards evacuation plan. Without these Building Emergency Action Plans, which require buildings to plan emergency responses for situations ranging from natural disasters and fires to bomb threats and shooters, building staff are not prepared to respond to an emergency like the presence of a gunman in a classroom.