January 24, 2013

New California Legislation Affecting Colleges And Universities In 2013 Focuses On Student Issues

The California Legislature took aim this past session to address topics near and dear to many college and university students:  social media, textbook, loans, and athletic scholarships.

Hands Off Student Social Media!

When tech-savvy California Governor Jerry Brown signed two social media laws this past September, what did he do?  He announced it on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and MySpace.  SB 1349, which passed through the Legislature without opposition (a feat in itself), prohibits public and private postsecondary educational institutions in California – as well as their employees and representatives – from requiring or requesting a student, prospective student or student group to disclose, access, or divulge personal social media user names or passwords, or any personal social media information.  According to the Governor’s Office, the legislation – similar but narrower in scope to companion bill AB 1844 applicable to California employers – was “designed to stop the growing trend of colleges and universities snooping into student social media accounts, particularly those of student athletes.”  “Social media” is defined expansively to mean “an electronic service or account, electronic content, including, but not limited to, videos, or still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant and text messages, email, online services or accounts, or Internet Web site profiles or locations.”  Colleges and universities cannot discipline or threaten to discipline or penalize a student or student group for refusing to comply with a request that violates the prohibition.  However, the legislation states that it is not intended to prohibit investigation into alleged student misconduct or violations of applicable laws or regulations, or taking adverse action against a student, prospective student or student group for any lawful reason.  Only time will tell, however, exactly where this “not so bright” line is drawn.

The More Information The Better, At Least When It Comes To Student Loans And Textbooks

The Legislature continued in its attempt to address components of rising education costs for students:  student loans and textbooks.  Attempting to address the rising amount of debt assumed by students in order to attend college, SB 1289 requires public and private colleges and universities (with the exception of community colleges, which are requested to comply) to make certain disclosures to students regarding private student loans in financial aid materials and in private loan applications.  All printed and online financial aid materials issued/distributed by the institution, and also private loan applications provided or made available by the institution, must include specific statements regarding (1) the fact that federal student loans are required to provide a range of flexible payment options and repayment plans that other loans are not required to provide, and (2) that federal direct student loans are available to students regardless of income.  The legislation also requires institutions that offer private loans as part of a financial aid package to clearly distinguish between federal loans and private loans, and provide specific information regarding interest rates that can be charged by private lenders.  Institutions that provide a private lender list to students must also disclose the basis for each lenders inclusion on the list.  Opponents of the legislation asserted that it was unnecessary because the federal Truth in Lending Act and the U.S. Department of Education’s student financial aid regulations already require disclosures in this arena.

Likewise, the rising cost of course materials and textbooks continues to be a legislative focus with the passage of SB 1539, which requires textbook publishers, and also their agents and employees, to provide price and content comparison information to faculty at both public and private higher education institutions who are prospective purchasers of the products.  The data required to be provided includes a list of the products offered for sale by the publisher germane to the prospective purchaser’s subject area of interest, the wholesale or retail price of the product, and the estimated length of time the publisher intends to keep the product on the market.  The required information also includes – for each new edition of the product – a list of the substantial content differences between the new edition and the previous edition of the textbook. The definition of textbook products was also expanded to include materials in digital or electronic format.  Additional legislation in the arena aimed at lowering the cost of instructional materials for students attending California’s public colleges and universities, was the passage of both SB 1052 and SB 1053, creating the California Open Education Resources Council and the California Open Source Digital Library.  The Council is charged with the identification of strategically selected lower division courses and making sure that open digital material of high quality is created for students in such courses.  Likewise, the Library, to be administered by CSU, will house open source materials and provide a web-based means for students, faculty and staff to find, adopt, use and modify course materials for little or no cost.

A Student Athlete Bill of Rights, But Currently Only For Athletes At Four Of California’s Universities

California once again enacted “first-in-the nation” legislation – albeit limited – to protect student athletes who suffer career-ending injuries (SB 1525).  The Student Athlete Bill of Rights requires universities that receive more than $10 million annually from sports media revenue to give academic scholarships to students who experience a career-ending injury while playing their sport.  It also requires universities to cover insurance deductibles and pay health insurance premiums for low-income student athletes.  Currently, that is a lonely club of four PAC-12 California schools:  U.C.L.A., U.C. Berkeley, Stanford and USC (soon to potentially be joined by the non-PAC-12 U.C. San Diego).  Opponents of the bill voiced concern that the legislation failed to protect the rights of the vast majority of California’s student athletes, who do not participate in the few sports programs with a sufficiently high-profile to meet the media revenue threshold.  Will similar rights eventually be extended to college athletes with sports scholarships at colleges and universities with less high-grossing athletic profiles?  Stay tuned.


Category: Higher Education,