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Despite low Duke student debt, students have mixed feelings for financial aid

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Duke was recently ranked third on the list of universities with the lowest student debt by US News & World Report, but several students expressed varying opinions with their financial aid experiences.

Duke students graduate with a median average debt of $9,200, a smaller figure than the average nationwide debt of $30,000 for class of 2017 graduates. The majority of borrowers at all colleges owe less than $50,000, and the financial aid office aims to cap loans for Duke students at around $20,000. Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education, noted in an email to The Chronicle that it is important to ensure that students are able to fund their education in a sustainable way.

“Our Karsh Office of [Undergraduate] Financial Support is heavily focused on addressing students’ needs, both in the development of financial aid packages [and] also when ad hoc challenges emerge,” Bennett wrote.

The Office of Undergraduate Education is working with DukeLIFE, an organization for low-income and first-generation students, to ensure that the University is meeting student needs and helping them identify avenues for support. The collaboration is led by Dean of Academic Affairs John Blackshear, who is also assistant vice provost of undergraduate education. 

The office also aims to provide accessible programming for all students regardless of financial need, according to Sloan Talbot, Trinity ‘19, Nowicki fellow for student engagement.

“My wife and I worked hard and sacrificed greatly to pay down the loan debt she accumulated as a Duke undergraduate,” Bennett wrote. “Duke’s financial support is considerably better today, but we administrators are focused on this issue because we appreciate the need to do more.”

As a result of the debt crisis, more universities are developing no-loan or reduced-loan aid policies to ease the financial burden on students. Duke has implemented the latter—students receive limited loans from the University, and all other need is presumed to be covered by other forms of aid.

“All students can apply for need-based aid, which provides assistance to students by calculating a family contribution and then meeting any remaining cost with a maximum loan of $5,000 per student,” wrote Alison Rabil, assistant vice provost and director of the office of undergraduate financial aid.

Duke’s financial aid policies have been criticized in the past, particularly for a decision—which was reversed after backlash—that would have stopped covering health insurance for students who do not have a parent contribution of $0. This could have placed students unable to cover the costs of insurance in a precarious situation.

Numerous students have benefited from financial aid at Duke—junior Omolola Sanusi, a writer for Recess, is one of them. Shortly after being accepted to Duke, she contacted the financial aid office to request assistance in paying for her education. 

“They’re really responsive,” Sanusi said. “I feel very comfortable studying abroad or trying to find an internship because, even if it’s not directly from the financial aid office, there are methods to receive funding.”

Senior Hadeel Abdelhy is in her ninth semester at Duke after taking medical leave in Spring 2019, and she is receiving financial aid for her final two semesters. However, she noted that she wasn’t even aware funding was available after the eighth semester.

“It’s not really made clear that this funding is available, and it would have been nice to know that,” she said. 

Although Abdelhy had a positive experience receiving aid for the academic year, she said that receiving financial support during her leave from the University was more complicated.

She attempted to request funds for summer 2019, but was told that she could not receive funding because she was on leave. Leave of absence policies state that students on medical leave “are not eligible for the benefits afforded to active Duke undergraduates” but do not explicitly mention financial support. 

Rabil explained in an email to The Chronicle that the financial aid office cannot provide aid to students who are not enrolled, but that the Career Center could help students with employment opportunities regardless of enrollment status. After further explaining her financial situation, Abdelhy was able to receive assistance for the summer. 

Abdelhy added that financial aid provides funds to students to cover medical and therapeutic appointments, but it usually comes as a reimbursement after the student has already paid the bill. She spoke of incidents where students could not cover rideshare fees to get to appointments or pay for treatment in the first place.

“I know people who were hospitalized because they just couldn’t afford the copays or transportation,” she said.

This would not be the first time Duke reimbursed students for incurred expenses: first-year Alexia Bryan wrote in an email to The Chronicle that she was reimbursed by financial aid three weeks after paying the $3,535 insurance fee out-of-pocket.

“As long as you’re on top of financial aid, they will help,” Bryan wrote.

It’s not out of the ordinary for students to assume responsibility for their expenses—in fact, it’s expected of them.

All Duke first-years have a minimum $2,600 student contribution to cover expenses they may incur during the academic year. This contribution is not directly paid to the bursar, so students on financial aid usually do not receive grants to cover it. However, if students take summer courses or partake in other approved programs, part or all of this contribution is meant to be waived and reimbursed to the student. 

“If a student is participating in Duke Engage, Bass Connections and summer term enrollments for a maximum of 2 summer terms [they] can receive partial or full waivers of the summer earnings requirement,” Rabil wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “If students are in other programs, the summer earning expectation (otherwise known as the student contribution) is not waived.”

However, junior Resilience Williamson did not receive this reimbursement after participating in both 2019 summer sessions, which was the first of multiple challenges with financial aid. They wrote a statement to a Women’s Center employee in early September, and this statement was shared with The Chronicle.

“I am a Rubenstein Scholar, which [means] I qualify for full grant aid with no loans, but that wasn’t being reflected in my package,” they wrote in the statement.

Due to the delay in reimbursement, Williamson had to work multiple jobs and find other ways to make ends meet during the summer term. They were provided with meal cards to eat at the Brodhead Center but still dealt with food insecurity.

Until Williamson met with a campus personal finance adviser to determine how to budget their money if they didn’t get their refund, financial aid did not release the money to them. 

Williamson also found discrepancies between their financial need and estimated aid for the Fall semester. They alerted their financial aid counselor, only to be told that the extra charges were from their summer bill, which they had already paid off, and that they were at a financial aid cap for the semester.

The ordeal took a significant toll on Williamson’s mental and physical health, to the point where they reached out to Counseling and Psychological Services, DukeReach and the Women’s Center to alleviate their financial anxiety. They stated that DukeReach advised them to contact Rabil, but they had been previously advised to stop contacting Rabil and to contact their financial aid counselor instead. 

Williamson eventually received an aid package reflecting the true costs of the semester.

Rabil wrote in an email concerning financial aid that every situation is different and students are encouraged to speak to their assigned counselors.

“Even if you don’t have any aid, you have a financial aid counselor,” she wrote, “so we would encourage anyone needing assistance for any reason to reach out.”





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Markets adds to gains in final hour

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Follow Yahoo Finance here for up-to-the-minute briefings on the financial markets, breaking news and other topics of interest to investors and traders. Please check back for continuing coverage.

3:30 p.m. ET: Stocks set to snap losing streak

Markets are betting on hopes of a U.S.-China trade accord after President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping made constructive remarks about forging a “Phase One” deal. If these gains hold, the market will have ended a 3-day string of losses.

1:45 p.m. ET: Disney+’s rising tide isn’t washing out Netflix

PARIS, FRANCE – NOVEMBER 20: In this photo illustration, the logos of media service providers, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney + and Hulu are displayed on the screen of an Apple MacBook Pro screen on November 20, 2019 in Paris, France. Netflix offers movies and TV series over the internet and now has 137 million subscribers worldwide. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

Disney’s (DIS) brand new streaming service has been live for over a week, and drew in an eye-popping 10 million subscribers in the first day. Amid talk about how the streaming wars would pit competing services against each other, new data from Piper Jaffray has some interesting findings:

“We expect strong continued interest in Disney+, given a sizeable portion of Netflix (NFLX) subscribers appear interested in using the service. Specifically, in our survey of 1,700 domestic Netflix subscribers, we found that 33% said they will subscribe to Disney+, up from 28% in our Sep-19 survey and 27% in our Apr-19 survey”

And perhaps most tellingly, Piper’s data shows that consumers aren’t abandoning one service in favor of the other:

“While we have observed rising interest in Disney+, due to increasing awareness as the service is now live, we have not seen an increase in the percentage of Netflix subscribers who expect to cancel Netflix in favor of Disney+. In particular, our surveys have shown a consistent mid-single digit percentage of Netflix subscribers who intend to cancel Netflix in favor of Disney+.

“We believe that, at any given time, there is some single digit percentage of Netflix subscribers that anticipate cancelling the service in the next few months. In other words, most existing Netflix subscribers appear to be trending towards multiple streaming video subscriptions, especially as many continue to reduce their spend on traditional TV offerings.”

Disney’s stock rose over 1% in Friday trading to stand at $149.18, while Netflix was off 0.7% to $309.33.

12:19 p.m. ET: Ray Dalio to WSJ: I’m not betting against the stock market

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal published an article saying Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater had amassed bearish bets — to the tune of $1 billion— on the stock market falling by early next year. However, the billionaire himself dismissed the premise in a Twitter thread, and a LinkedIn post:

In a statement, Bridgewater explained further, emphasizing that many of its positions hedge against others:

“Though we won’t comment on our specific positions we do want to make two things clear. First, the way we manage money is to have many interrelated positions, often to hedge other positions, and these change often, so that it would be a mistake to look at any one position at any one time to try to deduce the motivation behind that position. Second, we have no positions that are intended to either hedge or bet on any potential political developments in the U.S.”

12:15 p.m. ET: No rest for Tesla’s weary stock — or Cybertruck wisecracks

Tesla’s stock is hugging the day’s lows, off nearly 6% after the company revealed its new electric truck to the world. Reviews of the $40K Cybertruck have been nothing less than stinging, and have breathed life into new memes pinging around social media.

Autoblog writes that “…we’re still struggling to believe that the whole thing wasn’t one big joke” — while many mocked the Cybertruck’s allegedly “unbreakable” windows that…well, let’s just say the demo didn’t go according to plan:

11:20 a.m. ET: The strength in housing is widespread

In new research, JPMorgan notes how recent gains in the home sector have been felt virtually around the country.

“While real estate may be local, this broad-based firming across regions suggests that the drop in mortgage rates since late last year has played an important role in boosting activity across the nation,” wrote Daniel Silver.

The economist also offered the following to support his thesis:

“…gains in the South and West—where most construction activity generally occurs—have been above those for the nation as a whole. A decline in single-family housing starts in the Northeast stands out on the weak side (Figure 3), but multifamily starts in that region have been particularly robust lately…This divergence between weakness related to single-family units and strength in multifamily units is also evident in the permits data reported for the Northeast. Meanwhile, new home sales and homebuilder sentiment have posted solid gains in the Northeast so far this year.”

10:16 a.m. ET: The good news and bad news about earnings

One hallmark of Q3 earnings were S&P 500 companies that beat analyst expectations 75% of the time, according to Refinitiv. Yet companies are already preparing markets for a letdown in Q4, with negative pre-announcements beating positive ones by a 2.1 ratio. That negative/positive ratio is still below the long term average of 2.7, and prior four quarter average of 2.6. 

9:45 a.m. ET: Tesla stock sinks after Cybertruck falls flat

Tesla’s (TSLA) unveiling of its long-awaited electric truck was greeted with scorn by most observers. In early trading, its stock is getting similar treatment from investors, falling by nearly 6% to $334.74.

Yahoo Finance’s own reviewer had this to say:

“The Tesla Cybertruck pickup looked beyond the ‘cyberpunk’ vision [CEO Elon] Musk once said inspired him, in fact it looked downright alien. It has all hard lines, including a triangle-shaped bed with a retractable cover. The Cybertruck looked nothing like anything Tesla, or for that matter any automaker, has ever created. It’s a driveable triangle.”

9:30 a.m. ET: Stocks look to snap losing streak

Stocks opened higher on Friday, hoping to snap a 3-day losing streak, with investors cheered by constructive remarks about the U.S.-China trade war from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Here’s where the major benchmarks opened the session:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): 5.7 points, or +0.18%

  • Dow (^DJI): 34.68 points, or +0.12

  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): 19.06 points, or +0.22%

  • 10-year Treasury yield (^TNX): flat around 1.76%

  • WTI crude oil prices: (CL=F): -0.24% to $58.44 per barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): 0.38% at $1,469.10 per ounce

China’s Xi said he wants to come to a “Phase One” agreement with the U.S. so long as any deal is on the “basis of mutual respect and equality,” according to a Bloomberg report. President Donald Trump echoed those sentiments, saying a deal was close.

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WeWork’s first staff meeting after layoffs outlines path to profits

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  • WeWork Chairman Marcelo Claure addressed employees at an all-staff meeting on Friday morning after major layoffs on Thursday.
  • He said focusing on six key areas, including selling new products and pitching WeWork in a different way, would help the business grow profitably.
  • WeWork also named four men to executive roles: chief transformation officer, interim chief marketing officer, chief product and experience officer, and chief people officer.
  • Claure said that, in the future, WeWork would add more women to the executive team and its all-male board. 
  • For more WeWork stories, click here.

“It’s been three long weeks” since WeWork Chairman Marcelo Claure’s last staff-wide address, he told employees at WeWork’s all-hands meeting Friday, where he outlined a path forward for the embattled office company. 

In those three weeks, WeWork started layoffs, announced plans to outsource 1,000 facilities employees, and fired staff for abusing vendor policies, among other changes, as executives work to stabilize the company after a tumultuous fall. 

Now it’s time to move forward, Claure told employees. He outlined how the company would do that through focusing on six pillars, and he named four men, including two from SoftBank, to executive roles. 

And, marking a departure from founder Adam Neumann’s vision for WeWork as a technology company, Claure repeatedly emphasized the company’s real-estate characteristics.

“We are starting to disrupt the legacy real-estate office space,” one of his slides said. “We are in the midst of giving birth to a new category … We are the world’s No. 1 coworking and space-as-a-service platform.” 

WeWork has big growth plans, according to sources familiar with the matter: It’s going to double its locations in the next 10 months, thanks to an ambitious growth plan started by Neumann before he was ousted in September. The company will be in 1,200 buildings next year and predicts to have a total of more than 1 million members.

In slides presented by Claure to employees during the meeting, WeWork’s financial goals are to be adjusted EBITDA positive in 2021, cash-flow positive in 2023, and to be a profitable company. 

6 pillars of focus

Claure addressed the company wearing a black WeWork T-shirt, sport coat, and pants, the only color coming from a pair of powder-blue sneakers, according to an image from the meeting viewed by Business Insider.

He laid out six “pillars” for WeWork as it moves forward:

  1. Member and employee experience: Claure emphasized the experience “as the core differentiator” and explained how the company would support community teams — in-building staff who serve tenants, called “members” in WeWork parlance.
  2. Be the partner of choice: to members, brokers, businesses, and landlords. For brokers, WeWork will now highlight costs per employee, instead of costs per square foot. 
  3. Focus on core business, building by building: Claure wants each building to be profitable. Later on, the company will introduce dynamic pricing to adjust to changes in supply and demand. 
  4. Expand geographically “in a smart & profitable way”: WeWork plans to focus on its top 12 markets, which include New York and London. In the next 16 largest markets, the company will explore management and revenue-sharing agreements, which will see WeWork share responsibility with third parties. In Asia-Pacific, the company will continue expanding its joint ventures, and for emerging markets, franchising will be a focus in the future.
  5. Monetize spaces and sell products: New products could include city and global memberships. WeWork will also think through options for making more money out of buildings, including by renting conference rooms and spaces for events. Services include design components like soundproofing and storage; technology includes “premium internet,” virtual private networks, and cybersecurity; and business services include human resources, insurance, legal, and tax help. 
  6. “Operate with a cash-conscious-owner mentality”: WeWork will “be a more accountable organization,” with discipline and clear roles. 

Leadership changes

WeWork’s co-CEOs — Artie Minson and Sebastian Gunningham — are staying in their roles. At Friday’s meeting, Claure named four men to new senior roles. 

He also said that the company would focus on diversity in the future. At multiple staff meetings, employees have criticized the company for a lack of diversity at the top. Claure said WeWork planned to name women to its all-male board. 

These are the new roles:

  • Chief transformation officer: Mike Bucy, who’s tasked with making sure WeWork executes its six pillars. He comes from SoftBank, which he joined in 2018 after he was a partner at McKinsey. 
  • Interim chief marketing and communications officer: Maurice Levy, who’s the chairman of ad and communications agency Publicis Group. Levy briefly addressed staff on Friday, wearing, like Claure, all black, according to an image viewed by Business Insider. 
  • Chief product and experience officer: Ralf Wenzel, who is a managing partner at SoftBank and has “proven CEO-caliber leadership,” per Claure. Wenzel spoke with employees wearing a black WeWork “do what you love” shirt, according to an image viewed by Business Insider.
  • Chief people officer: Matt Jahansouz, who was promoted internally. He joined WeWork in February after nearly nine years in HR roles at Goldman Sachs.

The company has one vacancy on its organization chart: chief financial officer and head of real estate. 

Compensation changes

In other HR plans, Claure outlined a new compensation structure, with a base salary, merit increases, and a cash-bonus program. Multiple sources told Business Insider that WeWork lacked a formal compensation plan, with bonuses seemingly more dependent on relationships than on performance. 

The new cash-bonus plan will take into account the customer net promoter score, the company’s financials, and an employee promoter score. 

At the last all-hands meeting, Claure said WeWork would “put dashboards together so we can all see how we’re performing in a daily, weekly, monthly basis and we’re going to share that we’re going to have a culture of total transparency.” 

Get in touch! Contact this reporter via encrypted messaging app Signal at +1 (646) 768-1627 using a nonwork phone, email at mmorris@businessinsider.com, or Twitter DM at @MeghanEMorris. (PR pitches by email only, please.) You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.





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China is out of economic ammo

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The Chinese government has issued vague but stern-sounding warnings that it will retaliate for a bill passed by Congress that would require the White House to protect human rights and ensure the territory’s autonomy. But China’s options for economic retaliation are limited. And most of these options have already been exercised amid President Donald Trump’s trade war.


China’s most obvious method of retaliation would be to stop buying American goods. But China has already imposed tariffs on $135 billion worth of products. Sales to China from all over the US have plunged.



The agricultural industry has been hit especially hard. Farm bankruptcies are up 24 per cent this year. Farm bankruptcies are up 24 per cent this year, and a report by the American Farm Bureau Federation finds that almost 40 per cent of farmers’ income this year will come either from insurance payouts or government bailouts. This is an economic catastrophe for farmers and a headache for exporters. Few expect exports to China to recover even if the trade war ends tomorrow because China has found other suppliers. Even those US exporters who are still selling their goods in China must realise their situation is shaky; if they’re wise, they’re already looking for alternative markets. So China has little left to threaten on the trade front.


The other big weapon in the Chinese arsenal is investment. The Chinese government is traditionally a major buyer of US government debt, and it holds the second-biggest stash of Treasuries (after Japan). Over the years, many have fretted that a spat between the US and China would lead the latter to sell off that mountain of debt, creating a world of hurt for the US financial system and economy. But this danger is vastly exaggerated. As recent experience demonstrates, the US simply doesn’t need Chinese government cash. In 2015 and 2016 China experienced one of the biggest capital flights in history, with about $1 trillion pouring out of the country. This resulted in a huge drawdown of China’s foreign-exchange reserves, most of which are US bonds. If the US were heavily dependent on Chinese government financing, interest rates on US debt — and by extension, throughout the US economy —should have risen. Instead, they fell.


If China can dump a quarter of its US bond holdings and not cause a noticeable movement in American borrowing costs, then the threat represented by the remaining three-quarters probably is small. The US, like the rest of the developed world, is simply awash in financial capital. Unloading its reserve stockpile in retaliation for US actions toward Hong Kong would put China in greater danger than the US Without the cushion of reserves, a repeat of 2015-16 could lead to a classic emerging-market crisis in China, with capital outflows forcing a sudden currency depreciation, devastating the financial system and bringing the economy to a sudden stop. One final thing China could do is restrict its exports of rare earths, a crucial input for many technology products. China now dominates production of these commodities. But as my colleague David Fickling has noted, this threat also is minimal; when China cut off rare-earth exports to Japan in 2010 as part of a geopolitical dispute, Japan simply teamed up with an Australian company to find new supplies, quickly breaking China’s monopoly. The US could easily replicate this feat. So China has few economic weapons left with which to threaten the US over Hong Kong. It will likewise be powerless to retaliate over other geopolitical and humanitarian disputes, such as US condemnation of the mass internment of Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province or territorial spats in the South China Sea. For that matter, China’s continued ability to escalate the trade war seems limited. But China does have other weapons at its disposal. The kind that explode.


In pushing China over everything from trade to human rights to Hong Kong’s autonomy, the US should remember its own history. It was relentless US economic and diplomatic pressure over Japan’s invasion of China that pushed that country into launching a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. With its economic arsenal depleted, China could at some point decide that a harder form of retaliation is in order.





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