Saturday, November 29, 2008

Twitter's role controversial

Alexander Wolfe of Information Week notes that the police were concerned that the Tweeters might be giving away strategic information. Wolfe doubts that any info of use was given away.

The most important piece of information to come out of all of the Tweeting is that "official" journalism is no longer the best source for breaking news of this kind:

I'd add that Mumbai is likely to be viewed in hindsight as the first instance of the paradigmatic shift in crisis coverage: namely, journalists will henceforth no longer be the first to bring us information. Rather, they will be a conduit for the stream of images and video shot by a mix of amateurs and professionals on scene.

Mumbai Attack Aftermath Detailed, Tweet by Tweet

The Wired blog has a great post on how social media is providing some of the best current coverage coming out of the Mumbai massacres.

I'm often asked even by technophiles what purpose Twitter serves. This is just one example if its use in crises. I recently read that the American Red Cross also uses Twitter to provide updates to its network of volunteers.

I'm reminded of how in 1991 when Gorbachev was deposed in a temporary coup d'├ętat, Internet Relay Chat, aka "IRC", was used to relay information on the crisis since all television and radio in Russia had been shut down.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I love Bloomberg

Not the man, but his news empire. With Bloomberg's streaming video and detailed reporting, I really don't see the need for the Wall Street Journal at all. The Journal has become obnoxiously politicized in recent years, while Bloomberg has flowered into the place for financial news. And, Bloomberg actually offers unusual viewpoints such as those of investor Jim Rogers. Most business news sources ignored the financial panic in its early days, while Bloomberg was way out front.

Managing expectations

Managing expectations with the Foreclosure Hotline is a big deal for us. Since it's administered by non-profits, capacity and response time are a constant challenge:

"For many homeowners, getting help can be frustrating"
November 23, 2008
THE (Colorado Springs) GAZETTE

At a time when record numbers of people have fallen into foreclosure in the Colorado Springs area, Brooks believes he's exactly the type of troubled homeowner that lawmakers, housing advocacy groups and consumer counseling agencies want to help. So, he's called his lender to see if he can work out a deal, contacted financial counseling services and pursued assistance through a new federal program.

"People like this fellow (Brooks) are trying to think ahead and be pro-active before they reach the panic zone, but they're at a disadvantage because they're trying to access the same resources as other people ... who already are in foreclosure and who have a more urgent situation," said Ryan McMaken, a CDH spokesman.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Student Association Activities and Photos

Lobbying doesn't interest me much anymore, but I found an old page of the CSA web site I created a few years back, so I saved a few of the pages, since I realized I had forgotten most of the information here.

I'm especially proud of the fact that I was able to do so much with such a tiny budget.

From the old web site:

Legislation and Lobbying

Legislation and Public Policy - The Colorado Student Association works with the Colorado General Assembly and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to ensure that student interests are considered when decisions are made regarding financial aid, transfer credits, curriculum, program selection, governance, tuition rates, and higher education funding. Three times a year, our representative assembly assigns the Board of Directors a legislative agenda.

The Colorado Student Association holds a seat on the advisory committee of the Colorado Commission of Higher Education, and CCHE ad hoc committees such as the Governor's Blue Ribbon Committee on Higher Education Finance and Governance and the General Education Coordinatting Committee. CSA provides full time lobbying services.

Many organizations settle for a lobbyist that merely "monitors legislation," but the Colorado Student Association actively promotes legislation, secures sponsors for new legislation, and meets with all higher education lobbyists on a regular basis during the legislative session from January to May. Guests at our events in recent years have included House Majority Leader Keith King, CCHE Executive Director Tim Foster, and a variety of Commission members and CCHE staff.

Since legislators generally make up their minds about legislation long before bills are heard in committee, the idea that one can properly influence legislation by testifying before committees is a myth. Publicity shots and sound bytes cannot substitute for personal, full-time lobbying services provided by our staff.

Our office one block south of the State Capitol Building allows us to easily attend all relevant hearings, committee meetings, and floor debates related to state higher education statutes.

History of Recent Legislative Action

As the budget process is a year-round process, CSA is always working to ensure affordable tuition rates for Colorado's students. Much of this work is done through our seat on the Colorado Commission of Higher Education, but is also accomplished through regular interaction with the Joint Budget Committee during their fall hearings on the Dept. of Higher Education. This is a constant concern of ours from the time the Dept. submits its budget to the JBC in late summer to the time that budget bill is introduced the following April. As with the Commission, financial aid is also a top priority for us.

We also work on non-budgetary legislation as outlined below. The below list only includes major legislative changes, however. Please contact our office more more information:

2004 Session - This upcoming year, CSA has secured Rep. Nancy Spence (Chair, House Education Committee) as sponsor of new legislation creating optional programs for students seeking tuition stability over a four or five year period. This legislation would enable students to enter into agreements with public higher education institutions that would guarantee students a fixed tuition rate for the duration of the degree program. Students who choose to enter into these agreements could then enter school knowing that they would not be looking at any unexpected tuition increases a few years down the line.

In addition to other pending issues, CSA also plans to make sure that the amendments we were able to add to last years "College Opportunity Fund" legislation remains in the new COF bill. Please contact us for more information.

2003 Session - CSA worked on primarily two issues this session: student privacy legislation and the higher education voucher legislation. With identify theft as the largest property crime in America, CSA wrote and secured sponsorship (Rep. Nancy Spence) for a bill (HB 1175) prohibiting the use of a student's social security number in class rosters, identification cards, and library accounts. This legislation was designed to compel the CU, CSU, and Community College systems to end the practice of using student SSN's as primary identification numbers. This legislation passed and was signed into law in April 2003.

CSA also authored numerous amendments to the higher education voucher bill (also known as the College Opportunity Fund, HB 1336) during the legislative session. We were successful in having eight of these added to the legislation. Perhaps most important was our increase to the "credit hour cap". The bill failed during the 2003 session but will be introduced again in 2004. Please contact us for more information on the credit cap and the text of these Amendments.

CSA was the only lobbying group other than CCHE itself opposed to defunding CCHE through the budget long bill. The legislature, encouraged by individual colleges, initially supported reducing CCHE's budget to under 100,000 dollars effectively destroying all transfer-credit, distance education, and quality indicator systems that benefit students. CSA was able to make it clear that students depend greatly on the statewide coordination offered by the Commission, and the amendment was killed.

2002 Session - CSA was perhaps most notable during this session for amending out the misdemeanor portions of the higher education "riot bill." Originally, this bill contained language stipulating that a student would be expelled from all state higher education institutions in the event that he or she was convicted of one of four "riot related offenses." Three of these were felonies, but the fourth offense was a minor misdemeanor offense which CSA did not feel was appropriate in a list of mandatory expulsion offenses. Our amendment was successfully passed on Senate Education committee removing this lesser offense.

2001 Session - The 2001 session was a good one for students with the passage of HB1263, the "Student Bill of Rights" creating a statewide system of "guaranteed transfers" assuring students credit for specific core courses regardless of where a student might transfer within the state. This bill was also supplemented by HB 01-1298, the common course numbering system, making it easy for students to determine which courses are equivalent to those at other campuses where one might wish to transfer later. In response to this legislation, CCHE also created a statewide appeals process for students who believe they have no received full credit for transferred courses. CSA staff wrote key provisions of this bill, and we sit on the GE coordinating committee. Please contact us for more information.

After the session, the Governor Appointed his Blue Ribbon Committee on Higher Education Governance. CSA was invited to the table as member of the advisory committee, and was present at all meetings. This was especially important for us, as the genesis of the "credit hour cap" that was to show up in the "College Opportunity Fund" was in this committee.


These photos are not great, but keep in mind that we certainly didn't have funds for a digital camera in 2003:


This is a break-out session at one of our conferences.

Here is a panel discussion during one of our board meetings.




This is a presentation at one of our meetings by the president of the state Student Loan Program.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Identity theft and student ID numbers

Probably the best thing I did as director of the Colorado Student Association was successfully lobby for legislation (which I wrote) prohibiting the use of Social Security numbers as student ID numbers. Here's a clip from the University of Colorado faculty newspaper, The Silver and Gold Record:

Bill would ban use of SSNs as student numbers

January 30, 2003

By Marianne Goodland

HB 1175, sponsored by Rep. Nancy Spence (R-Centennial), would require all institutions of higher education in Colorado to set up randomly-generated identification numbers and end the practice of using SSNs as student ID numbers. Currently, institutions must use SSNs to interface with the federal government on financial aid, student employment and selective service registration. Barbara Todd, CU-Boulder registrar, said this week that it is legal for an institution to use the SSN as a student identifier, and that SSNs routinely appear on class rosters and in the Student Information System (SIS). Faculty use SSNs to look up student records in the SIS and to verify student identities in classes.

It is illegal for anyone to display a student's SSN without his/her consent, which might occur through posting grade lists on a faculty office door. Those lists often identify the student with all or part of the SSN. It is also illegal to pass a roster around in a class to ask students to check-off their names if that roster includes the SSN. "Anytime an instructor passes a roster around or posts it on his/her door, it is displaying student information without the student's consent," Todd said.

Ryan McMaken of the Colorado Student Association testified Monday that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has for almost 30 years prohibited the release of student Social Security numbers to anyone other than those with a "legitimate educational interest." Most institutions have taken steps to ensure that they do not use a student's SSN to identify the student, McMaken said, but many of the violations still occur at the classroom level. "It often depends on the preference or policy of the individual faculty member," McMaken told the committee.

Violations occur even when only a partial SSN is used, such as on class exams or papers. Three years ago, the U.S. Department of Education ruled that the release of even a partial Social Security number violated FERPA, and McMaken told the committee that in Colorado faculty often use the last four digits in a SSN to identify students on exams or papers. However, he said, many Colorado residents have the same first five digits, and as a result it would be easy for someone to identify the entire SSN once the last four digits are known, he said.

In addition, according to CSA, students have complained that SSNs are often required to renew library books over the phone or online and the numbers are printed on ID cards required for access to dorms, cafeterias and other facilities. McMaken said such violations "are blatantly illegal."

More on higher ed vouchers


Colorado Governor Signs College Voucher Law

State will become first in nation to offer program
By Steven K. Paulson
Associated Press
Community College Times
May 25, 2004

DENVER - Colorado became the first state with a college voucher program this month as Gov. Bill Owens signed a law that will give high school graduates hundreds of dollars to attend state schools, public and private.

The Republican governor said vouchers send a message to high school students that college is not out of reach and that taxpayer money is available to help. He also said the program will spur competition for scholars.

“The more students you attract, the better your institution can do,” Owens said at the May 10 signing. “Today Colorado becomes the first state in the nation to transform the way it funds higher education by empowering individual students.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures said no other state has attempted a voucher program on such a scale: Stipends will be available to all Colorado undergraduate students who qualify for in-state tuition. They can use the money for up to 145 hours of credit, with some allowance for unusual circumstances.

The students do not get a check. Instead, they apply for the stipend when they register and the state sends the money to the school. The amount is set each year by the Legislature, depending on the state budget.

When the program begins in the fall of 2005, the amount will be $2,400 for students attending a public school and $1,200 for low-income students attending three private institutions: Regis University, a Jesuit institution, the University of Denver and Colorado College.

The law says the money can go to religious schools as long as they are not “pervasively sectarian.”

Jacob Garcia, a 23-year-old community college student who wants to major in journalism, said vouchers will force schools to improve.

“I like it when colleges compete for students,” Garcia said.

Ryan McMaken, director of the Colorado Student Association that represents about 60,000 college students, said the program does not put more money into higher education. But he said attaching a dollar figure to each student will make it harder for lawmakers to make cuts.

“This does put us on a better footing. This is half of the solution, making people aware the money is there,” he said.

There is concern among lawmakers that vouchers may have to be cut next year unless voters ease fiscal limits in the state Constitution or agree to use millions of dollars Colorado gets from the national settlement with the tobacco industry.

Without one of those steps, lawmakers warn, higher education and Medicaid will be on the chopping block when they cut an estimated $254 million next year.
Owens is considering whether to call a special legislative session to address the fiscal restraints after the Legislature failed to come up with a plan to present to voters in November.

The vouchers give schools some breathing room: They do not have to count voucher tuition toward revenue limits imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).

University of Colorado President Betsy Hoffman said vouchers are a first step until taxpayers agree to loosen the constitutional restrictions of TABOR and Amendment 23, which requires increased annual spending on K-12 public education.

Tuition and sticker shock

AUGUST 28, 2003
Tuition jumps amid sagging economy

By ZACH AHMAD
Colorado Springs Independent

As college students flood into classrooms, in Colorado they may be finding themselves with a little less cash to spare.

In June, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens approved a controversial tuition rate hike plan recommended by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education for all state-funded colleges and universities, sending some institutions' costs of attendance to their highest levels ever. With the state's budget feeling the pressure from a dragging Colorado economy, increasing tuitions became the testy compromise between state officials, universities and student groups.

Locally, the typical student attending the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs -- where $8 million in state funding was slashed -- saw his or her tuition jump from $2,750 annually to $3,025, not taking into account housing, meals or mandatory student fees. At Pikes Peak Community College, resident students taking a full schedule will pay between $1,580 and $1,980 -- an approximate 5 percent increase over last year.

Despite a nearly 10 percent tuition hike, UCCS spokesman Tom Hutton says the university did its best to first cut nonessential spending. No faculty or staff vacancies were filled, no computer upgrades were made on campus, and university travel budgets were curtailed.

"Raising tuition was a last resort," said Hutton. "We tried to cut expenses wherever possible. No one got a salary increase this year, from our custodians to the university chancellor. I think students understood that this wasn't something we wanted to do; it's something we had to do."

Other state schools saw an even more significant boost. Yearly tuition at the University of Colorado at Boulder rose a stinging 15 percent from $2,695 to $3,190, the second largest percentage increase in the university's history. Colorado State University hiked up comparable 9.6 percent to $2,908, and the price tag on attendance at University of Northern Colorado in Greeley leveled at $3,207 after shooting 8.6 percent.

The real world

The increases did not come out of the blue. Tuition hikes are a current trend at public universities everywhere, but they are becoming even more substantial with growing state budget cuts during bad economic weather. With education costs at their highest and financial security at a low, the effect on low-income students is more painful than ever, causing some to rethink the value of a college education.

"There's probably going to be some sticker shock this year," said Ryan McMaken, executive director of the Colorado Student Association, a nonprofit legislative lobby for students in higher education. "For the poorest students this will definitely have an impact. If you're in that category, an increase of more than $100 a month is a major difference. There will no doubt be some who won't be willing to pay for higher education when they don't feel financially secure."

With their own savings and parental assistance not going as far as they once did, cash-strapped students are getting schooled in the real world of economics. Ramen noodles and canned spaghetti no longer provide the answer. Many students are moving back in with their parents or taking on long commutes to live in cheaper housing markets. They are also tallying substantial debts.

Christie Leighton, associate director of Student Financial Services at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, said that while students must approach loans cautiously, they should ponder the option.

"Sometimes students are reluctant to take out loans, but it's something to consider," said Leighton. "If a loan allows them to graduate, over time they're going to get a better-paying job because they have a college education."

Storm to stay

Whatever the benefits of a college education, the rising cost is not a trend likely to die anytime soon. This year's hikes followed only somewhat smaller increases the year before, and Colorado schools have been actively seeking more leeway to raise rates even higher.

Last May, the governor vetoed a bill -- strongly lobbied for by university administrators -- that would have allowed the University of Colorado system to bypass the state's ability to overrule any tuition adjustments. With the struggling economy, the financial storm hanging over higher education could stay a while longer.

"There will certainly be some form of tuition hikes coming next year, as there have been in the past," said McMaken. "When income is going up that's not a problem, but that's not what's happening right now."

The fixed-tuition bill

This is some legislation I wrote and successfully pushed in 2004. It became law, although I don't know if it was ever implemented as I left CSA shortly after this article appeared.

Fixed-tuition bill offers students same rate for all college years
Chris Kampfe and Kyle Endres
The CSU Collegian
Issue date: 5/4/04

Four-year college students could pay an unchanging tuition amount every year under a bill passed by the state legislature on Monday.

House Bill 1207, barring Gov. Bill Owens' veto, will allow students to sign a contract upon admission to state higher-education institutions that would grant them a fixed-tuition rate if they promise to graduate in a certain amount of time.

"It's to try to even out price increases and tuition increases so a family can plan their budget and say we know that for the next four years, 'We've got to come up with this amount of money,'" said Rick O'Donnell, executive director of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

The fixed rate would be strictly optional for students.

"In my own opinion, in the way I've seen the bill most recently, though it hasn't passed yet, it makes it optional to offer these fixed-tuition contracts to students, and it makes it optional for students to participate," said Gerard Bomotti, vice president for Administrative Services.

The bill was proposed by Rep. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, and co-drafted with Ryan McMaken, executive director of the Colorado Student Association.

McMaken said he believes state universities support the idea.

"It isn't a mandate," McMaken said. "It's something they wanted to do in the past."

Bomotti is wary of implementing such contracts in unpredictable economic times.

"An institution can best offer a fixed-tuition program over a four-year period if the environment is more stable," Bomotti said. "Now, the financial environment in Colorado is not stable."

The bill's implementation is contingent on the passage of the College Opportunity Fund, which is also awaiting Owens' approval. This bill would grant stipends, or vouchers, to in-state students for use at state universities, rather than universities receiving funding directly from the state.

Some stipend supporters say the College Opportunity Fund provides the opportunity for universities to attain enterprise status, which would give them more financial flexibility.

Owens will approve the bill this month, O'Donnell said.

He said the fixed-tuition rate would offer students and families more choices in paying for college.

"Not every student or family's going to want it, but it was an option that the institutions saw they could offer that some students would maybe find (is) an easier way to be able manage the cost of college," he said.

But Sen. Peggy Reeves, D-Larimer County, agrees with Bomotti that the fixed-tuition contract bill's timing is questionable.

"I think that we're in a great state of flux within higher education right now," she said. "I think we need to implement the college-opportunity vouchers and understand how that mechanism works and how that shakedown works before we implement this proposal."

Student Debt

Here's a partial clipping on student debt. The issue of credit-card debt was big at the time. I also chaired a panel on the topic at the annual conference of the Colorado Student Loan Program (now College Invest).

CONSOLIDATE STUDENT DEBT, EXPERTS SAY LOW INTEREST RATES CAN ADD UP TO BIG SAVINGS

Rocky Mountain News
July 8, 2002
Julie Poppen News Staff Writer

...Record low interest rates have Colorado college graduates who are knee-deep in debt angling to consolidate their loans.

There's never been a better time to do it, financial aid officials say. The historic low interest rates on Federal Stafford loans of 3.46 percent for a student in school and 4.06 percent for many graduates kicked in a week ago.

"A lot of students are fairly careless about how they calculate what they're going to be paying back in the future," said Ryan McMaken, president of the Colorado Student Association...

USA Today on voucher plan

USAToday
Posted 5/10/2004 9:20 PM Updated 5/11/2004 1:31 PM

Colorado to create college voucher plan
DENVER (AP) — Gov. Bill Owens signed Colorado's first-in-the-nation college voucher plan into law Monday, calling it a landmark step that will empower thousands of students.

Owens said the vouchers send a message to high schoolers that college is not out of reach and that state money — up to $2,400 per voucher — is available to help.

"Quality education isn't about institutions, it's about the future of our students," he said. "It's a new day for higher-education funding in America, and I'm proud to say that it's dawning in Colorado."

Stipends will be available to all Colorado undergraduate students who qualify for in-state tuition.

Every year, the Legislature would set the value of the stipend based on the state budget. For next fall, the amount is set at $2,400 for students attending a public institution in Colorado, and $1,200 for low-income students attending three private institutions: Regis University, which is a Catholic institution, the University of Denver and Colorado College.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says no other state has attempted a voucher program on such a scale.

But students might not get the full $2,400 this year because of budget problems, state lawmakers have said. They said the amount will have to be cut to $1,600 unless voters ease fiscal restraints embedded in the state constitution or agree to use millions of dollars Colorado gets from the national settlement with the tobacco industry.

Opponents of the voucher program complained that giving state funds to private colleges would draw money away from state institutions and could be challenged in court. Owens and others, however, say vouchers would encourage more students to go to college.

Ryan McMaken, director of the Colorado Student Association, which represents about 60,000 college students, said the plan does not put more money into higher education. But he said it could make it harder to cut funding.


This article also appeared on CNN.com:

Nation's first college voucher program OK'd

Monday, May 10, 2004 Posted: 2:28 PM EDT (1828 GMT)

DENVER, Colorado (AP) -- Gov. Bill Owens signed Colorado's first-in-the-nation college voucher plan into law Monday, calling it a landmark step that will empower thousands of students...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A recent meat-and-potatoes placement

Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Apartment vacancies hit 6.5 percent
Denver Business Journal

Apartment vacancies in metro Denver increased in the third quarter because of the soft national economy, but remained relatively low by recent standards, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Division of Housing...

“The rental market is being affected by the financial markets,” said Ryan McMaken, community relations director for the Division of Housing.

Monday, November 10, 2008

9News piece on foreclosures

It is apparently unspeakably difficult to produce a screenshot of video of myself in which I look decent. However, this was a pretty good story.

While I prefer to put the division director in front of the camera, sometimes I have to be the spokesman:



A partial transcript:

"From 2006 to 2007 we had this huge jump, 40 percent. The number jumped from about 28,000 filings in 2006 to 39,000 filings in '07. I'm estimating we'll probably see about 45,000 to 50,000 filings in 2008," said Ryan McMaken with the Division of Housing.

McMaken says a recent report from the Pew Charitable Trust that forecasted one out every 25 homeowners in Colorado would likely go into default in the next two years wasn't necessarily offering any new information. McMaken pointed out that such a statistic doesn't necessarily indicate that there will be a correlating increase in foreclosure.

"One in 25 does seem very high, but you want to keep in mind that this is only dealing with defaults, so we're talking about those homeowners that have become 90 days overdue in their payments. It doesn't necessarily mean that default will end up in foreclosure," said McMaken.

Many have been wondering if the crisis on Wall Street has "bottomed out." The same could be asked of the housing/foreclosure crisis. Much like the nebulous stock market, the answer for the housing sector is fluid.

"That's very difficult to say, certainly for 2008 I don't think it's the case that we've bottomed out," said McMaken.