Medill DC

Aug 28

Online lending startups tap into student loan market

WASHINGTON – New online crowd-funding firms are tapping into an alternative lending market for MBA students, a small fraction of the $1.2 trillion student loan market dominated by government-backed traditional lenders.

Social Finance Inc., or SoFi, and CommonBond Inc., are among the online crowd-funding startups that connect Masters of Business Administration students with their universities’ alumni networks. The firms convince alums to invest in school-specific funding pools and the loans are then distributed to applicants.

The new crop of lenders arrives as the cost of a college education continues to soar, while starting wages for new graduates remain flat and families scramble to rebuild savings’ in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

These companies are trying to cultivate a niche market where they hope to minimize defaults by focusing on low-risk MBA students. 

“Not only is it the market we know very well, it also happens to have pretty strong earnings prospects and employment prospects,” David Klein, CEO of the CommonBond, said of the graduate students that his company favors.

A former MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Klein dropped out of his program to co-found CommonBond with partner Michael Taormina. He said he is still paying a high rate for his own student debt.

Part of what his company does is to provide loans that seek to correctly reflect the risks of financing MBA students by offering them lower interest rates than those provided through federal loans. The company rewards investors in the loan pools with 4 percent to 6 percent returns.

Currently, student borrowers financing their education with loans from SoFi, or CommonBond  pay between 6.05 percent to 6.94 percent as a fixed rate, including origination fees. In comparison, federally backed direct loans for graduate students charge an interest rate of 6.21 percent, according to StudentLoans.gov. But the additional origination fee for the federal loans can go as high as 4 percent.

However, the federal government provides student borrowers some appealing protection terms that the private market may find hard to match. When borrowers are in challenging economic situations, federal student loans can offer a deferment or income-based repayment,  allowing borrowers to postpone or reduce loan payments. In some cases, the deferment can last for up to three years.

SoFi’s CEO Mike Cagney said the company does not rule out similar relief for its borrowers. He said SoFi also offers career support that helps borrowers land new jobs when they are seeking employment opportunities after losing work.

The two online loan firms have borrowers from more than 20 business schools at Columbia University, Yale University, Harvard University and other colleges.

This year, the market outlook for business school graduates showed signs of modest growth. About 86 percent of companies plan to hire MBA students, up from 80 percent, according to a recent survey by the non-profit Graduate Management Admission Council. And the projected median starting salary for MBAs in the United States in 2014 is $95,000.

The two companies don’t have short-term plans to expand their loan programs, which currently serve only MBA students. But they are looking at the refinancing market, where there are still relatively few private players.

Cagney believes that out of the entire $1.2 trillion student debt market between $200 billion and $300 billion can be addressed through private refinancing solutions. SoFi already expanded its refinance service, which used to be limited by degree and school, to all the college graduates who already have a job.

In CommonBond, refinancing products make up almost 80 percent of their business. And the company’s CEO Klein said they plan to expand it more than 200 schools.

By Lingjiao Mo

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Digital campaigning: the future is here

WASHINGTON – Tacking the word ‘digital’ onto things has always seemed antiquated to me. 

For someone who can’t remember not having a computer in the house, who grew up playing Oregon Trail and doing research for school projects entirely online, the digital realm has never seemed new or different. 

So when Michael Slaby, formerly of Obama for America, and Zach Moffatt, formerly of Romney for President, stopped by George Washington University to talk about digital campaigning, I prepared myself for more of the same.

But, to my surprise, Slaby confirmed my long-held belief: the future is here. 

"I think the idea that we’re talking about digital campaigning – this is probably the last time we talk about that," Slaby said.

"It was called ‘new media’…now it’s not new anymore, so we call it ‘digital.’ What’s the difference between digital and communications? I don’t know anymore."

This is a refreshing perspective for my generation, who came of political age during President Obama’s 2008 campaign. This campaign became the first to make extensive use of digital technologies like email, Facebook and Twitter, all of which would become election fixtures by 2012. If CNN’s John King is using touch-screen election maps, that’s probably a sign that these kinds of accessories aren’t new technology anymore – they’re just normal parts of our lives.  

As Slaby pointed out, campaigns are changing to reflect this reality. Digital and traditional, online and offline are coming together to reflect how voters now experience media. 

"At some point, having a digital director and a communications director becomes redundant and strange and uncomfortable, depending on their skill sets," Slaby said.

"We’re just going to end up in a place where this is just campaigning, and that includes online and offline actions, and we blend it in a seamless way." 

Post by Lindsey Holden

2014 NFL preview

WASHINGTON — Real tackle football is almost here.

Almost seven months after the last meaningful football game the NFL kicks off its season on Thursday in Seattle, when Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers march into CenturyLink Field to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks. It’s billed as a rematch of the infamous Fail Mary game from 2012 when the Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers after the worst call in NFL history.

Here in the nation’s capital, not only is there the ongoing controversy over the Washington Redskins’ nickname, but there’s new concern over the lackluster preseason play of the Redskins’ first-team offense led by Robert Griffin III. Yes, it’s only the preseason. But this is Washington. In the nation’s capital, the Redskins are scrutinized more than President Obama.

Here is your in-depth breakdown of the 2014 NFL season, with predictions for the winners of each division, as well as the conference championship matchups and who will play in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona.

AFC West champion: Denver Broncos

Denver signed ex-Steeler wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to replace Eric Decker, who signed with the New York Jet during the offseason. The Broncos beefed up their defense with the signings of DeMarcus Ware and ex-Patriot Aqib Talib. And last time I checked, they still had Peyton Manning at quarterback. The Broncos will win the AFC West going away and should have a first-round playoff bye.

AFC South champion: Indianapolis Colts

The AFC South was always the Colts’ to lose when Manning was their quarterback. With the ascent of Andrew Luck it appears to be that way again.

Luck has somehow led the Colts to back-to-back 11-5 records in his first two years despite a poor defense and awful offensive line. The Texans, who went 2-14 last season, will be better because of Jadeveon Clowney teaming up with J.J. Watt on the defensive line. But Houston’s starting single-caller is Ryan Fitzpatrick, who college football at Harvard. Tennessee’s quarterback is Jake Locker and Jacksonville’s is Chad Henne. Those last two sentences explain why the Colts will win.

AFC North champion: Cincinnati Bengals

These aren’t your father’s Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens. Only three times in the last 13 seasons has a team other than the Steelers or Ravens been crowned champion of the AFC North. All three of those years, including last season, the Cincinnati Bengals were the team. This year will make it four times in 14 seasons.

Many scoffed at the Bengals giving quarterback Andy Dalton a six-year $115 million contract this offseason. It’s a lot of money, for sure, but it’s what had to be done. The pool of elite quarterbacks in the NFL is so shallow that teams must secure what they do have — even if he’s a second-tier guy. A.J. Green is on his way to becoming the NFL’s best wide receiver. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins is healthy this year. The Bengals’ defense was third-best in the league last year, in terms of yards allowed per game and they gave up the fifth-fewest points.

Ben Roethlisberger is getting older, and can’t seem to stay healthy. The Ravens’ are a shell of what they used to be, and the Browns won’t be getting to the playoffs, no matter who their quarterback is.

AFC East champion: New England Patriots

The Patriots have won their division 10 of the past 11 seasons, and in 2008 — the only year in that span that they didn’t prevail — Tom Brady was out for the whole season with a torn up knee.

New England is more talented than last year, and remember, the Pats were one game away from the Super Bowl. The organization signed All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, and added ex-Seahawk Brandon Browner to toughen up the secondary. Vince Wilfork is back after missing 12 games last season with a torn Achilles and Rob Gronkowski, who tore the ACL in his right knee last season, is hoping to play in the opener vs. the Miami Dolphins.

With a healthy Gronk, Bill Belichick calling plays and Tom Brady throwing the ball, the AFC East is the Pats’ to lose.

NFC West champion: Seattle Seahawks

The NFC West is the toughest division in football, with Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona all winning at least 10 games last year. 

The Seahawks and 49ers will compete for the division crown once again, with the Thanksgiving matchup in Santa Clara, California, on Nov. 27 and the Dec.14 tilt in Seattle probably determining who will in the division. 

Arizona was much improved under first-year head coach Bruce Arians last year, but the Cardinals are not ready to challenge the 49ers or Seahawks. Seattle has a better home-field advantage than San Francisco, and a slightly better defense, which is why the Seahawks are poised to repeat as division winners.

NFC South champion: New Orleans Saints

Carolina surprised everyone last season by winning 12 games and finishing one game ahead of Drew Brees and the Saints. That won’t happen in 2014.

Tight end Jimmy Graham signed a contract extension and won’t have any distractions this year, Drew Brees is still a top-five quarterback and Sean Peyton is still an offensive guru. While many (including me) always focus on the Saint’s juggernaut offense, the defense gave up the fourth-fewest points in the league last year. Expect the Saints to challenge San Francisco and Seattle for the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC.

NFC North champion: Green Bay Packers

The Packers managed to win the NFC North last season, even without star quarterback Aaron Rodgers under center for seven games due to a broken collarbone.

Rodgers’ clavicle is now healed and the Packers are the clear favorites to repeat. The Chicago Bears, with a high-powered offense featuring receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, are the highest hurdle Green Bay has on its road to repeat, but Rodgers is 9-2 in games he’s finished against the Bears in his career. (He started against Chicago on Nov. 4 last year before getting injured; the Bears went on to defeat the Packers.)

Until Chicago beats Green Bay when it counts, the Packers are the team everyone is chasing in that division.

NFC East champion: Dallas Cowboys

The NFC East, a few years ago, was the best division in football. How times have changed.

The Eagles, last season’s champs, are the favorites to win the division, according to odds makers in Las Vegas. But every team has a question mark.

How much will the Eagles miss DeSean Jackson? Will Eli Manning start playing like a two-time Super Bowl MVP? Can Robert Griffin III stay healthy and learn a new offense? How will the Cowboys manage to get to 8-8?

Philadelphia cut the electrifying Jackson due to off-the-field issues, and he was promptly snatched up by the Redskins to give Griffin another deep threat in addition to Santana Moss. Nick Foles, who emerged as a potential franchise quarterback last season, will have to rely on Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper and Co. to carve up defenses. 

The Giants rallied to finish 7-9 last season after losing their first six games while Eli Manning led the NFL with 27 interceptions. Tom Coughlin’s cheeks were especially red last season.

Dallas, in each of the last three seasons, has finished 8-8 and has lost win-or-go-homes in Week 17 that would have given the Cowboys the NFC East title. As we say every year, the ‘Boys are one of the most offensively talented teams in the league, with Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten leading the way. Dallas will probably find a way to choke away at least a couple of games. But for no other reason than having no confidence in the other three teams, the Cowboys will win the division this year for the first time since 2009.

AFC Championship: Patriots over Broncos

Denver and New England are easily the two best teams in the AFC, and are heavily favored to meet for the second straight year with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. This year, though, New England has Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Vince Wilfork to try to  stop Peyton Manning’s prolific offense — defenders the Pats didn’t have last January in Denver, when the Broncos won 21-16.

The pick: Patriots 31, Broncos 27

NFC Championship: Saints over Seahawks

The NFC has a lot more depth than the AFC, and there are four or five teams with a legitimate shot at advancing to the conference title game. Ultimately, the Saints will get revenge for last year’s divisional-round defeat in Seattle and will beat the Seahawks to go to the Super Bowl for the second time in six years. 

The pick: Saints 24, Seattle 23

Super Bowl: Patriots over Saints

Next February will mark the third time that Brady attempts to win his fourth Super Bowl ring. It will also be his sixth Super Bowl, which would make him the quarterback with the most Super Bowl appearances overall. (He’s currently tied with John Elway at five.)

The matchup at University of Phoenix Stadium will pit the game’s two best tight ends against one another in Graham and Gronkowski, and two of football’s best quarterbacks in Brady and Brees. A competitive, high-scoring affair will be great to see after last year’s blowout. This is also the stadium where the Giants shocked the Patriots, 17-14, in Super Bowl XLII that ended New England’s perfect season. You think Robert Kraft and his men want some revenge in that stadium?

The pick: Patriots 35, Saints 31

Aug 26

Women’s Equality Day in U.S. Today

On Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was added to the U.S. Constitution.

Monday, President Barack Obama released a proclamation designating Tuesday asWomen’s Equality Day 2014.  Presidents have designated the date every year since 1971.

Obama said Americans should reflect on “the character and perseverance of America’s women and all those who work to make the same rights and opportunities possible for our daughters and sons.”

This year, the message took flight online.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray also officially declared August 26 Women’s Equality Day in D.C. in a proclamation he tweeted out Tuesday afternoon.

“Today, women in the District of Columbia and across the country are united to continue the fight for women to have the same equal rights, as well as recognize and commend the achievements that women have made to our society,” Gray’s proclamation read. 

Check it out HERE: https://twitter.com/mayorvincegray/status/504300167726903297/photo/1

Is Marty McFly’s puffy vest in Back to the Future red or orange? It is an age old question and our very own Laura Bradley answers it on NPR.

Is Marty McFly’s puffy vest in Back to the Future red or orange? It is an age old question and our very own Laura Bradley answers it on NPR.

(Source: vivalanikkki)

Aug 20

Medill students relate to James Foley’s experience

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Students in the Medill Washington newsroom  this summer are in the same program James Foley went through 7 years ago. The news came as a shock.

You really take it to heart when you know he also graduated from Medill,” said Dima Ansari in the National Security program. “It makes you think about you as a reporter coming out from Medill and possibly the dangers associated with reporting.”

Caroline Cataldo, who is taking the covering conflicts class, said she could not help but think of herself in Foley’s situation.

This quarter I have sat through hours of class time learning how to cover conflicts and national security issues.” Cataldo said. “Though I don’t think James’ path is meant for me, his story hits close to home in ways I was not expecting.

Taryn Galbreath said “it feels odd and scary to think of his experience like ours… It is kind of unimaginable.”

Aug 19

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Reporters in Ferguson, learning to cover riots on the scene?

Hundreds of reporters have descended on Ferguson, Mo., to cover the ongoing unrest.

The suburban St. Louis town has been troubled by looting and violent mobs since a black teenager, Michael Brown, was shot six times by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, on Aug. 9. 

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon brought in National Guard troops Monday in an attempt to curb the violence.

“As the National Guard arrived on the streets, journalists’ numbers swelled to the point that some questioned who were there in greater force, protesters or those covering the protests.” –Markham Nolan, Vocativ 

Journalists have been defying police lines to report from the center of the confrontation. There they’ve been arrested, shot at and some have even been injured. 

Ah those First Amendment rights. @GettyImages snap own photographer Scott Olson being arrested in #Ferguson, MO. pic.twitter.com/nxQgdhlMRG

— Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon)
August 18, 2014

Paul Farhi of The Washington Post reported that many journalists have been outfitted with gas masks, bulletproof vests, helmets and flak jackets. 

In his article, “With no textbooks on how to cover riots, reporters in Ferguson learning as they go,” Farhi quotes an MSNBC reporter covering the events, Trymaine Lee: “I’ve been through [Hurricane] Katrina, so I’ve been around the block, and this might rank right up there. There were a few moments when you felt that anything could happen.”

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Aug 18

Move over denim, there is a new ‘All-American’ trend: Athleisure

Denim was once king of American causal fashion, but it seems that jeans are about to be dethroned.

Sales of jeans are down 6 percent year-over-year, according to analysts at the NPD Group. While that may not seem like much, it’s big for the industry.

“It’s rare for denim to take such a dramatic drop,” Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst of The NPD Group told NBC News.

One reason: cost. Sales of high-end jeans priced over $75 were down by 18 percent in 2013, according the NPD Group. On the West Coast, those numbers were even more dramatic, with high-end jeans falling by 40 percent in 2013.

Unlike pricey jeans, yoga pants and athletic wear can be purchased for as little as $10. Called “athleisure,” yoga and gym clothes are becoming the new go-to casual wear for women from teenagers to adults.

Piper Jaffrey’s “Taking Stock of Teens” biannual survey shows teens turning from brands – like Levi’s and True Religion – and towards athletic brands, such as Lululemon and Athleta.

If you aren’t big on following trends, now may be the time to buy jeans. Retailers, such as American Eagle Outfitters and H&M, are slicing prices on their jeans.

They’ve caught ‘em all, now it’s time to see who’s the champ!

WASHINGTON – The crowd watches as the competition on stage heats up.  One side has been playing defensively, baiting the opponent.  Teams, bred for just this purpose, duke it out under the spotlights.  Commentators on the sidelines speculate about the next move.  After a few tense seconds, the screen above the stage highlights the next move, Charizard mega evolves!  The crow cheers!

 A little off to the side,  I watch as the first battle of the Pokemon World Championships takes place on the screen in front of me.  Thousands have come from around the world to watch the best at the Pokemon video games and the Pokemon TCG (Trading Card Game) – in a weekend Poke-marathon.

It’s true, the wildly popular ‘90s phenomenon is still going strong; two new games are scheduled for release later this year.  Pokemon is the massive empire that has players collecting a squad of creatures and doing battle with other trainers, either in the popular Nintendo games or in trading card form.

Tired parents escort kids between tables set aside for the TCG.  Adults sit outside the convention hall, binders open with price stickers over shiny cards, tempting passers-by with their wares.  A long line, with a 30-minute wait by one employee’s estimation, snakes into a small “Pokemon Center” where fans can load up on limited edition gear, including a plush Pikachu, the de facto mascot, wearing a cape and gesturing to the sky ($20 in case you were wondering).

Every one of these fans has a deck of cards or a Nintendo 3DS loaded with the most recent game in the series.  Even those not competing are having a good time, trading or playing against other fans who’ve made the pilgrimage to the poke-mecca.

The set up looks like any other conference – with the hall divided into three wings, left and right devoted to the card game, roped off with official Pokemon judges wearing lab coats and supervising each battle.  Each wing is flagged by TVs rigged with special proprietary technology that displays the 3DS screens for an audience.  Fans cluster around these individual battles, and occasionally I hear a cheer when someone pulls off a crazy move.

But the real highlight is the main stage.  Three large screens hover over a decorated stage.  A small table is set up in the middle, and two young men are seated, with a judge behind them.  Cameras are scattered around the stage; hundreds of chairs set out for fans to watch are taken hours before the competition begins.

As I watch the battle on stage, my hand lingers for a moment in my pocket, over my own 3DS that contains my own team of trained pocket monsters.  For a moment, I think about pulling it out and challenging someone to a battle.  But I know I’ll be easily outclassed.

Instead, I snap a few pictures, and text my parents, reminding them of my own Pokemon glory days years before.

On my way out, a little boy is carried by his mother, a plush Pokemon gripped in his hands.  He drops it and tries desperately to get his mom to turn around.  I bend over and grab his bright yellow friend before handing it back, earning a huge smile.

Pokemon might seem like a fading fad from the ‘90s, but if that little boy’s face is any indication, Pokemon is here to stay.