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Student Loan Debt Relief Plan And How To Make Sense Of It



The president is trying to make some sense finally with higher education. He’s trying to make some sense, now, in general — with war, with jobs, and the economy — those issues most important to our nation — and to his presidency, too, of course.

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

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Until now, we have seen nonsense in the higher education community under the current administration, mind you. President Obama set a goal for our nation to lead the world with the highest proportion of college graduates by the year 2020, then deliberately put plans in place that make that goal unreachable. Nevertheless, in late October 2011, Obama has finally begun trying to bring some hope to students saddled with debt and struggling to find work. The only trouble is that his plans do nothing to help students who are currently struggling, but only those who will find themselves in the same dilemma when they borrow money in 2012. And his new ideas don’t create jobs, either.

Yesterday, Obama announced that he’s striking out on his own – completely unchecked by Congress – with changes that will affect about 7 million of the federal student loan program’s 36 million borrowers. His initiative will allow students to:

1. Consolidate loans from the Federal Family Education Loan Program and direct loans from the government. The savings is an interest rate reduced up to a half percentage point less than the previous rate.

2. Benefit from the acceleration of the implementation of an income-based repayment (IBR) program. Obama is pushing for a measure passed by Congress that reduces the maximum required payment on student loans from 15 percent of discretionary income to annually to 10 percent. He wants the change to be implemented faster, not in 2014 but 2012. Any remaining federal loan debt would be forgiven after 20 years of repayment, instead of the current 25 years.

President Obama is reportedly “fed up” with Congress’ inaction in bringing a jobs bill to the table that would help create new opportunities for recent college graduates. So instead of treating the cause with a plan that would impact student borrowers at all types of institutions, instead he has introduced measures to treat the effects. Rather than proposing a solution for eliminating debt to begin with, we’ve instead been presented with a forgiveness program.

Actually, we may need to be more forgiving. Under the president’s new plan, students might be tempted to borrow more and pay back even less. What’s to stop them from taking out, say, twice their original loan amounts and choosing to attend a more esteemed – and pricier – institution (assuming they have the academic credentials and manage to be accepted)? If a student isn’t going to be held to paying back the full amount, why not take on a larger debt load and get more for (not) their money?

Student Loan Debt Relief ProgramPolitically, the president’s plans might sway younger voters to support him. Who’s not up for playing less on what they owe? Or maybe Obama’s move is a response to the notion that he has do to something – anything – to fight the “do-nothing” label that’s been slapped on his back. But his actions have only created a “do-more” reaction from the career education sector.

The Coalition for Educational Success was first to issue a response to the White House’s announcement. Calling his actions a positive step forward, Managing Director Penny Lee made the natural connection between the president’s initiative and the “gainful employment” rule: “It is our hope that the U.S. Department of Education will eliminate any conflicting provisions of its recent gainful employment regulation imposing a limitation on the total number of loans in income-based repayment (IBR) programs that count as successfully in repayment. If unchanged, this provision will limit the important positive impact of the President’s new program for students.”

The Association for Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) followed with its response. APSCU also expressed concern that the change could make it more difficult for some of its institutions to comply with gainful employment regulations. But in the final paragraphs, the organization’s response suggests a focus on the solutions to excessive student debt, namely continuing to educate students about responsible borrowing and budgeting.

In other words, higher education needs a better solution to fix the issue at hand, like educating students and their families about the loan burdens they are taking on and the consequences of not paying their loans back. We have already bailed out struggling industries by dumping billions of dollars on them, to no avail. How about insisting on a jobs plan that alleviates much of the financial situation here by providing a way for people to make money to pay back what they owe? A few million forgiven student loans don’t help us get past the problem.

I’m convinced that if Washington was presented the absolute perfect solution for fixing the issues in higher education (or with any other issue, really), that solution would be distorted by the time it was implemented by all the parties who feel they need to have a say, who are obligated politically to posture strongly for or against it to gain political points, and so on. Mr. Obama’s suggestions are not perfect. His ideas are merely a start. And the fact that this first step might not even be in the right direction – and people are still finding some enthusiasm about it – is a sad commentary on where we are in higher education now. We are playing politics and banker, not protecting our future.

This article is syndicated with the permission of and Kevin Kuzma, Online Editor
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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Adam Hoeksema

    November 2, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I recently wrote a blog post about the student loan debt issue titled “Student Loan Debt – An Entrepreneurial Solution.” at

    I think that by unlocking the real world value of student class projects by connecting them with businessess.

    Donations for Class Projects – Your university may not feel comfortable allowing students to make money from their homework, but what if you allowed businesses who were happy with the results of their class project to make a donation to the student. Maybe the donation goes directly toward tuition as a scholarship of sorts.
    Build a Network of Potential Employers – By connecting students with businesses while they are still in the classroom, you will help students create a network of potential employers who they have already worked with through class projects. Ultimately employers will feel more comfortable hiring those students for jobs and internships because they are familiar with their work and have already established a relationship with them. Ultimately as long as students have a quality job, they should be able to pay off their student loan debt.
    Gain Real World Experience – The more real world experience a student can gain, the more qualified they will be for jobs after graduation. Real world projects are great resume builders, and will help students demonstrate what they have learned. Again, real would experience makes a student marketable, and ultimately more likely to secure the job needed to pay back student debts.

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UK DOH Teams Up With Social Media Companies To Battle Eating Disorders



Photo: S O C I A L . C U T |

The United Kingdom’s Department of Health Secretary Matt Hancock challenged social media companies to improve upon their practices when it comes to handling eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia.

The Health Secretary hosted a round table discussion with the social media giants to lessen instances of influencing vulnerable teens into self-harm. Content that encourages self-harm, eating disorders and misinformation leads to the increase of reported cases.

“Today the meeting was called to be about the promotion of self-harm and suicide material, but we also spoke about tackling eating disorders and some anti-vaccination messages which are so important to tackle to ensure they do not get prevalence online,” Hancock says to the reporters.

Hancock is pleased that the social media companies agree and started discussing actions that each would take.

“I feel the tech companies are starting to get the message, they’re starting to take action – but there’s much more to do.”

Instagram has affirmed its commitment to the challenge. The photo-sharing app has announced that it will remove posts that promote eating disorders.

Aside from removing harmful content, Instagram and other tech companies involved also agreed to pay a reward for anyone who will help them remove content that encourages suicidal behavior.

Instagram has been facing pressure on improving its content since the suicide case of 14-year-old Molly Russell. Ian Russell, the victim’s father, has come out and shared that Molly’s Instagram account was following self-harm accounts. The accounts were filled with photos related to depression.

In April, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport created a consultation series for the Online Harms White Paper. The UK government spearheaded consultations to identify the best measures to keep UK users safe online.

In the white paper, the government has acknowledged that online platforms can be used to affect one’s mental health and well-being. It lists that one of the problems are social media algorithms that do not showcase other points of view.

For example, if a user follows an account that promotes body-shaming, the social media platform’s algorithm will suggest the user follow similar accounts. This creates an unhealthy balance of the information received by the user.

The white paper also acknowledges the use of social media platforms to bully, harass, or intimidate other users. It also recognizes that these instances usually target public figures like celebrities.

Eating Disorder in Social Media

A BBC report launched an investigation on how teens are interacting in social media platforms such as Instagram. The report detailed the story of Jodie-Leigh Neil, a teen battling anorexia.

Neil says, ” I spent hours and hours going through this content and this material, and that then added to the more competitive side of anorexia.”

Neil shared that even if Instagram did not cause her anorexia, it exacerbated it. She shares that other user’s posts about their lowest weights with pictures that show skin and bones. Those posts triggered Neil’s anorexia encouraged her only to eat 20 calories per day.

After battling anorexia for three years, Neil continues to be on Instagram. In this case, she has now dedicated her account in spreading the positive message about eating. She highlights the positive journey she’s had in overcoming her eating disorder.

According to BBC, there’s an increase of more than 130% of teens suffering from eating disorders since 2011 based on National Health Services data.

Detox Teas and Promotions from Celebrities

One of the highly criticized uses of social media platforms are the ads of celebrities promoting products. Millions of followers consume content that is made to benefit businesses. One business that many claims to promote an unhealthy lifestyle is detox teas.

Detox teas are laxatives that help in one’s weight loss journey. Celebrities like the Kardashians, Amber Rose, Cardi B, and other influencers have been seen promoting detox teas, crediting the product for their bodies.

In 2018, the Kardashian-Jenner sisters were criticized for posting Instagram stories that are encouraging anorexia. In the story, Kim is showered with praise by sisters Khloe Kardashian and Kendall Jenner for being skinny.

In the short video, Jenner said “No, like I’m really concerned, I don’t think you’re eating. Like, you look so skinny.” However, the model continued to compliment Kardashian on how good she looks despite being concerned about her eating habits.

The content has upset many fans as it seems that the sisters were encouraging Kim to continue “not eating” because she “looks so skinny.”

Jameela Jamil, an actress, and body positivity advocate slammed celebrities who promote the detox teas and unhealthy weight loss options.

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This Designer Came Up With A Stylish Facial Recognition Shield

The problem is: it’s not for sale.



Photo: NOMA Website

In May, a man is walking along the streets of London with his green jacket when he noticed a van that he thought to be a police surveillance vehicle. While he walked passed the car, he covered his face with his hoodie in fear that there might be some sort of facial recognition system around. Much to his surprise, he was stopped by the UK police and fined him more than a hundred pounds for “disorderly behavior.”

Facial recognition systems are everywhere. It is in your car to automatically unlock it without a key. It is in your smartphones and smart homes. It is even in airports to help you board your flights without hassle. The reality with facial recognition is that it becomes a staple technology in many aspects of human life that it becomes almost impossible to get away from.

Thankfully, Ewa Nowak, a graduate from the design department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw thought of an ingenious and very stylish way to shield your face from the gawking eyes of facial recognition cameras. He has created a jewelry design that can trick facial recognition systems and hide key facial features to prevent them from identifying someone.

“I was just amazed how they could identify our gender, age, and mood,” Nowak explains her curiosity towards securing oneself from unauthorized and unconsented facial recognition. “But also how the development is constantly leveling up. I was surprised about how even if we have our face partially covered, how [face recognition] can still follow us and distinguish us.”

Nowak is currently co-founding a design and arts venture called NOMA together with another artist Jarosław Markowitz.

According to Nowak, she was inspired by the release of light-up glasses that was developed by Japan’s National Institute of Informatics to fight facial recognition systems. Because of her creativity, she developed a device, or more like face jewelry. Her design included two brass circles that hang down from the cheekbones and an additional long piece of brass that stretches up to the forehead. A long wire can be used to attach the entire piece into your head, similar to how glasses work.

Photo: Ewa Nowak via FastCompany

Nowak has previously worked with other designs too, but this specific jewelry design is the first that worked and has actually prevented a facial recognition system from recognizing her facial features.

Mazda Design Award granted her the trophy at the recently concluded Łódź Design Festival for her ingenious way of preventing facial recognition from identifying someone.

“I worked on the [face jewelry] for two or three months, and then it waited,” Nowak says. “The reason I showed in Łódź is that there was a competition. I entered, and the project won. It’s the easiest way to get displayed. There are so many projects stuck at the university level. When we were studying, a lot of people asked how to show their work to people and share ideas. Education and business are disconnected from art.”

There is one big problem, though. Because Nowak considers the design more as a conceptual work of art rather than a product, the Polish artist said that she has no plans of mass-producing it; especially that the product has to be molded to someone’s face and to be perfectly fitted in order to work.

While it is unfortunate that Nowak’s design is not much of a help to people; apparently, it opens a wide door for designers and technology experts to develop their own version of a facial recognition shield.

Photo: Ewa Nowak via FastCompany

Her design can also serve as baseline design for innovations in the area of facial recognition shielding and could inspire younger people to develop their own.

With the growing popularity of facial recognition, a market for it it is very much open, and that serves as a strong incentive for businesses and intellectuals alike to produce something that could help people protect themselves from the privacy-violating facial recognition.

The unregulated technology that is facial recognition has continued to steer public dialogue on the protection of people’s privacy. Human rights advocate that the growing prevalence of the systems makes legislation and regulation lag from their intended purposes. They hope that with innovators like Nowak, the world will see a balance in the benefits of facial recognition and people’s privacy.

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The Newest Sea Creatures-Inspired Tea Bags Strengthen Japanese Tea Tradition



In Japanese culture, tea is more than just a drink. The tea ceremony, also known as “Way of Tea,” has been an essential part of Japan’s culture for centuries. This high-valued celebration is matched with a performance that mirrors grace and beauty, accompanied by a ritual activity that strengthens the familial relationship.

For centuries, the country relies on its tea business — not just to adhere to its venerable tradition — but because drinking tea has been a part of Japanese daily routine. As companies continue to venture in tea business, creative approaches on how to spice up one’s tea packaging are also booming. One great example is the recent innovation of the Japanese company known as “Ocean Teabag” — which takes the challenge of creating a different and unique approach to tea bags.

For tea lovers, the new design becomes a “breath of fresh air” since traditional tea bags have not changed for many years. The company decides to team up with an oddity shop and a local bookstore called “Village Vanguard” to produce the new animal-themed teabags that can alter people’s mood by just looking at the cute design.

Ocean Teabag was created by Takahashi Shota, who launched the first-ever product with a dolphin design in 2015. It became the talk of the town, which transpired Shota to create another set of animals to the product line. The business gained orders from outside the country — making Ocean Tea Bag be the first and only company to introduce unique designs to teabags.

Source: ocean-teabag

The custom of drinking tea, mainly for medicinal purposes, can now be associated with pleasurable reasons. From drinking the most boring bland tea comes to the new sea creature-inspired teabags. The design elevates the daily tea ritual into a zoological adventure; ranging from giant squids, otters, to red Pandas and cephalopods. Layers, folds, and perforations create the details of each creature’s body, while the outside packaging mirrors with that of the inside. So, customers will know through the wrapping what animals to choose for their tea sessions.

Source: ocean-teabag

The tea bags can be bought online or through personal transactions at a sum of 1,820 yen or $16. These tea bags once dipped, add life to your daily tea routines, simply because of the delicate folds, which look like an animal is swimming in your tea.

Source: ocean-teabag

Tea was initially valued as medicine because of its health benefits and was only available to rich people like the noblemen and emperors. The first documented evidence of tea session in Japan dates back to the 9th century when it was brought by the Buddhist monks after studying the tea culture in China.

The monks personally served “Sencha,” an unground Japanese green tea, to the famous Emperor Saga. Japanese nobles, later on, practice it, and through an imperial order in the year 816. And since then, tea plantations had become widespread in different regions of Japan.

Until today, tea becomes a daily beverage of both the affluent class and the ordinary people. It has become a symbol of a growing relationship among Japanese and their families, even nobles and commoners.

Aside from drinking tea as a way to bond and relax, one reason for the emerging tea businesses is the proven benefits of tea in our bodies. According to a study conducted by a group of researchers from Ohio State University in Colombus, tea, mainly green tea, has shown to help fight obesity and inflammation. The findings indicated that the said tea encourages the growth of good gut bacteria which lowers the risk of obesity.

However, today, Japan faces one of the pressing issues with regards to its tea farming. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in 2016 indicated that the area used for tea farming declined from 46200 hectares to 43100.

Although Japan is the eight largest tea producer in the world, tea farming itself, unfortunately, decreased in the past years. One reason is the continued support of local government to private companies which build establishment and other infrastructures in areas where tea farming is mostly found.

With this, the country relies mostly on tea imports from other countries, including China. Ocean Tea Bag supports local tea producers and hopes that its newest sea creature-inspired tea bags will continue the country’s tea tradition and strengthen the bond between Japan and its people.

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