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Comparing colleges by economic value of their degrees

Wed, 2015-04-29 02:00

Question: What do Cal Tech, Concord’s Community College in New Hampshire, MIT, Carleton College in Minnesota, Lee College in Texas, and Pueblo Community College in Colorado, all have in common?

Answer: They are ranked in the top twenty schools in the country for “adding value” to a student’s college years.

According to a new analysis  by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, these and other top-ranked colleges and universities give students an economic boost in terms of long-term career success and earning power, compared to similar two- and four-year institutions.

Brookings researchers crunched the numbers on thousands of schools that provide associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, comparing graduates’ mid-career salaries and rates of  student-loan repayment, as well as schools' financial aid and career-services offerings.

“With tuition continuing to rise ever-higher," says Brookings lead author Jonathan Rothwell, "public policymakers and students are interested in answering the question: What is the college going to do for me? What contribution is the college going to make to my future career?”

A new college ranking looks at which schools contribute most to students' long-term economic success.

Brookings

One clear takeaway from the voluminous economic-impact data compiled by Brookings is that any academic study in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math—is likely to deliver a good return on educational investment. Salaries, benefits, and job opportunities are significantly better in these fields than in professions favored by liberal arts graduates, such as teaching, publishing, social services and government.

Rob Franek, publisher of The Princeton Review, welcomes the new data and rankings from Brookings. He says they offer a much-needed financial lens to help students and families decide where to go, how much to spend, and how much to borrow, for higher education.

The Princeton Review’s popular college guide and online resources highlight many of the nation’s most prestigious, brand-name universities. But Franek says those aren’t the only places worth spending one’s tuition dollars.

“You can’t say, just because of brand perception, that your tuition dollars are going to pay off. A community college might turn out to be the best value for a student paired with a bachelor’s degree in a couple of years," says Franek.

The federal government, meanwhile, is preparing its own higher-education value assessments to help consumers compare colleges’ relative costs and benefits. Some university administrators worry that the new rankings will result in their schools being stigmatized as a ‘worse buy’ for the typical student’s higher-education dollar, and that their access to federal financial-aid funding will be reduced.

Comparing colleges by economic value of their degrees

Wed, 2015-04-29 02:00

Question: What do Cal Tech, Concord’s Community College in New Hampshire, MIT, Carleton College in Minnesota, Lee College in Texas, and Pueblo Community College in Colorado, all have in common?

Answer: They are ranked in the top twenty schools in the country for “adding value” to a student’s college years.

According to a new analysis  by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, these and other top-ranked colleges and universities give students an economic boost in terms of long-term career success and earning power, compared to similar two- and four-year institutions.

Brookings researchers crunched the numbers on thousands of schools that provide associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, comparing graduates’ mid-career salaries and rates of  student-loan repayment, as well as schools' financial aid and career-services offerings.

“With tuition continuing to rise ever-higher," says Brookings lead author Jonathan Rothwell, "public policymakers and students are interested in answering the question: What is the college going to do for me? What contribution is the college going to make to my future career?”

One clear takeaway from the voluminous economic-impact data compiled by Brookings is that any academic study in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math—is likely to deliver a good return on educational investment. Salaries, benefits, and job opportunities are significantly better in these fields than in professions favored by liberal arts graduates, such as teaching, publishing, social services and government.

Rob Franek, publisher of The Princeton Review, welcomes the new data and rankings from Brookings. He says they offer a much-needed financial lens to help students and families decide where to go, how much to spend, and how much to borrow, for higher education.

The Princeton Review’s popular college guide and online resources highlight many of the nation’s most prestigious, brand-name universities. But Franek says those aren’t the only places worth spending one’s tuition dollars.

“You can’t say, just because of brand perception, that your tuition dollars are going to pay off. A community college might turn out to be the best value for a student paired with a bachelor’s degree in a couple of years," says Franek.

The federal government, meanwhile, is preparing its own higher-education value assessments to help consumers compare colleges’ relative costs and benefits. Some university administrators worry that the new rankings will result in their schools being stigmatized as a ‘worse buy’ for the typical student’s higher-education dollar, and that their access to federal financial-aid funding will be reduced.

Uber wants to be the Uber of merchant delivery

Wed, 2015-04-29 01:52
27 percent

That's the percentage of Fortune 500 companies that publish a pay-for-performance report, as found by a proxy analysis by Towers Watson. Those reports disclose what the top earners at a company are paid vs. the companies financial results. But that percentage may soon grow, as the SEC announced on Wednesday that it would propose new rules forcing more companies to participate in such reports, making their numbers more transparent to shareholders.

2 out of 5

That's how many postsecondary graduates come out of colleges granting credentials of two years or less. And yet most college rankings do not include these schools. A new analysis by Brookings not only takes a look at both two- and four- year institutions, but also analyzes the added value they provide to their graduates. More specifically, the report looks at how alumni performed economically in the long-term vs. their projected performance based on their characteristics and type of institution they attended.

$8,000

That's what business owner Sheranda Palmer says she spent on renovating her West Baltimore salon before it was ransacked by looters Monday. Palmer isn't the only one. Marketplace reporter Amy Scott walked around one of many blocks affected by rioting in the wake of Freddie Gray's death and talked to residents who are taking stock, cleaning up and trying to rebuild.

400 merchants

Apparently, Uber is trying to be the Uber of merchant delivery. According to some sources, as many as 400 merchants are in discussion with the sharing-economy juggernaut to launch a same-day delivery service. As reported by TechCrunch, businesses like Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s, Cohen’s Fashion Optical and Hugo Boss are already in talks with the new venture, called UberRUSH.

$44 million

That's what NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell made in 2013, and we know because the NFL is a 501(c)6 non-profit. The league announced Tuesday that it will give up its tax-exempt status and join its 32 teams as taxable entities. It's a good PR move for an embattled organization, and it'll bring in $100 million in taxes over the next decade, but the change also means the NFL isn't required to disclose executive salaries and other business information anymore.

Tracking the flow of aid relief in Nepal

Tue, 2015-04-28 13:51

The 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on Saturday has left more than 4,500 people dead and thousands injured as of Tuesday.

Charities and non-governmental organizations have initiated relief efforts, which include providing supplies such as food and water to Nepalese affected by the quake.  Here’s a breakdown of how donations from the U.S. are spent: 

 

 

The Orioles will play in an empty stadium this week

Tue, 2015-04-28 13:00

The Baltimore Orioles' stadium, Camden Yards, has a capacity of 45,971.

That's a big number Tuesday because the team just announced all those seats are gonna be empty Wednesday. The game against the White Sox will still be played, but it'll be closed to the public.

This raises a whole bunch of questions:

What happens to all the foul balls?

Are they still gonna have the organist play? It's going to echo a lot.

And more seriously, what about all the people who work there? Are the ushers and concessions folks and the rest going to get paid?

Tyson cuts antibiotics in chickens, are hogs next?

Tue, 2015-04-28 13:00

Tyson Foods has announced plans to dial back the use of antibiotics in raising chickens. One of the company’s biggest customers — McDonald's — announced last month plans to stop buying chicken raised with antibiotics that are also used in humans.  Higher levels of antibiotic use are linked to faster development of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs," which endanger people.

Next, Tyson says, it wants to cut back on antibiotics used on pigs and cattle.

Even advocates for reducing antibiotic use say that going antibiotic-free isn't necessary. According to Jonathan Kaplan, director of the food and agriculture program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, "it turns out we can get  the same — or nearly the same — public-health benefits from reducing the routine use of antibiotics."

Some exceptions make sense, he says, like treating animals that actually get sick, or giving low doses to piglets when they’re weaning. 

Hog farmer Ron Prestage says Kaplan's prescriptions actually describe the limits of antibiotic use on his farms, which produce more than half a billion pounds of pork a year.

"Trust me, I wouldn’t want my child or wife to have an illness that we did not have an appropriate drug to treat. Or myself either, for that matter," says Prestage, who is also president of the National Pork Producers Council.

It’s not clear whether those practices represent the pork industry broadly. The FDA reported in 2014 that sales of antibiotics to farmers, including antibiotics used in humans, have risen dramatically. 

What is clear: Reducing the use of antibiotics in cattle is a heavier lift. They’re not built to digest grain— which is what they get to eat in feedlots — so they get liver abscesses and need antibiotics.   

Steve Roach, who runs the food safety program at the Food Animal Concerns Trust, says, "We’ve created these systems based on the ready availability of antibiotics. Trying to rejigger the system and  find better diets for cattle is a challenge."

Koch Industries 'Bans the Box'

Tue, 2015-04-28 13:00

"Ban the Box" is a campaign to remove the check-box question "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" from job applications. Supporters of the campaign say the question puts people who have committed a crime at a disadvantage, even though they have served their time. Discrimination against former felons reduces their ability to get jobs and rise out of poverty, the argument goes.

The Koch brothers, owners of Koch Industries, are known for their deep-pocketed support of conservative and libertarian political causes, so a recent move by the company to "ban the box" on the company's job applications surprised some observers.

But while the Koch brothers support conservative causes, they've long supported criminal justice reform.

"They've been front and center out there looking at reform issues," says Nancy La Vigne, Director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. 

"Ban the box" isn't a liberal issue, says Michelle Natividad Rodriguez, senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project.

"Business absolutely wants to see people take care of themselves, can give back to the economy, can support their families," Rodriguez says. "That's what keeps our economy going."

“Banning the box” would help about 70 million Americans find jobs, Rodriguez says. That’s a lot of potential employees. Many employers in the public sector have started to ban the box on their application forms, she says, but only a handful of corporations have come out publicly in support of the measure. "We want to see more of this happening." 

But Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative civil rights think tank, thinks some companies have plenty of reason to find out if applicants have been convicted of crimes. In supporting "ban the box," Koch Industries may have more than reform on its mind.

"A lot of companies might think this is good publicity," Clegg says. "I think particularly, larger national companies are always eager to appear to be politically correct."

NFL gives up tax-exempt status

Tue, 2015-04-28 11:22

The National Football League is eliminating its non-profit tax-exempt status.

If you're wondering how the NFL  can be tax-exempt if it rakes in massive profits each year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell brought that up in his letter announcing the decision on Tuesday. 

"As you know, the effects of the tax exempt status of the league office have been mischaracterized repeatedly in recent years. The fact is that the business of the NFL has never been tax exempt. Every dollar of income generated through television rights fees, licensing agreements, sponsorships, ticket sales, and other means is earned by the 32 clubs and is taxable there."  

The league's non-profit status, 501(c)6 to be exact, applied to the League office. The expected revenue the government will receive is slightly more than $100 million over 10 years. 

"[That] isn't a lot of money to the NFL, but it's a lot of money to us," says Kavitha Davidson, sports columnist for Bloomberg View

The news sounds like it should be a PR win for the NFL, which has been criticized for many missteps during Goodell's time as commissioner. But, instead of celebrating, the news was released on a day overshadowed by other concerns.

So why the news dump now? Davidson says the numbers don't tell the whole story of what the NFL gained from being a non-profit. Team dues are paid to the League office, which can be deducted as a business expense. 

"That basically means that the NFL can take that money, and if doesn't spend it in a certain amount of time, can loan it back as part of its stadium financing program, for example," Davidson says.

It's not clear whether the League's tax exemption benefits the teams themselves.

Moreover, non-profits like the NFL are required to report executive salaries. For instance, we know that NFL commissioner Goodell made $44 million in 2013. Giving up tax-exempt status means fewer reporting requirements.

Davidson pointed to the case of Major League Baseball, which immediately gave up its tax-exempt status when salary disclosures requirements started in 2007. Those details are of particular interest as executive salaries rise rapidly and outpace players' salaries. 

One other consequence that strikes Davidson: clear information about what female executives earn. 

"As the rest of the country fights for equal pay," she says, "the NFL has actually started to actually promote women to higher level executive positions. We won't have disclosures now to show they're being paid in a comparable way to their male counterparts." 

PODCAST: The suburb revival

Tue, 2015-04-28 03:00

Oil companies find a way to make a profit in spite of low prices. Plus, Shinzo Abe is coming to visit. There will be plenty for him to talk about, but one big item on the agenda is Japan’s currency, which some people say is being manipulated by the Bank of Japan in that country’s favor. How is Japan controlling its currency, and why? And in the years after the housing bubble burst, census data showed that Americans—especially younger Americans—were forgoing suburban life for city living. Millennials, it was said, preferred walkable neighborhoods, public transit, and smaller homes. Now, new census data shows the suburbs are experiencing a revival.

Find the AP participation rate at your high school

Tue, 2015-04-28 02:16

Compare, by race, the percentage of students enrolled in your high school with the percentage enrolled in at least one an AP class.

Enter the name of your public highschool below to find the AP participation gap.

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Story: Spending $100 million to break down AP class barriers

What the AP gap looks like at your high school

Tue, 2015-04-28 02:16

Compare, by race, the percentage of students enrolled in your high school with the percentage enrolled in at least one an AP class.

Enter the name of your public highschool below to find the AP participation gap.

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Story: Spending $100 million to break down AP class barriers

Donations pour in for Nepal

Tue, 2015-04-28 02:00

As of this writing, fatalities from Nepal's 7.9 magnitude earthquake have exceeded 4,000, with the number of dead and injured expected to rise as emergency workers reach more remote mountain villages. Millions in the region are affected—with homes damaged or destroyed, and food, water, medical and earthmoving equipment in short supply.

People have been phoning and clicking to make donations to the international relief agency Mercy Corps; they had given $715,000 by mid-day Monday, said spokesman Jeremy Barnicle. “That money will mostly go to procure essential items that people need now,” said Barnicle. “So that’s tarps and sleeping mats, first-aid kits, water bottles, things like that.”

The money is flowing through the Bank of Kathmandu, and is being doled out to local partner organizations by Mercy Corps’ in-country staff of 90, most of whom are Nepali and were already working on long-term development and humanitarian projects. The money, spent primarily in Nepalese rupees, will boost the local economy, helping wholesalers and stores and trucking companies reopen and bring back workers. Aid groups will also use the money to resupply relief depots in the region that are being tapped right now to get materiel out to hard-hit areas in Nepal.

Bob Ottenhoff, president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, says longer-term needs will be harder to meet, with American donors’ short attention span.

“There’ll be lots of people giving in coming days, as long as the media keeps covering the story,” said Ottenhoff. “But it’s very difficult to raise money for planning and preparation and mitigation.”

Spending $100 million to break down AP class barriers

Tue, 2015-04-28 02:00
High school students across the country are nervously cramming for Advanced Placement exams, which begin next week. But, there won’t be nearly as many minority and low-income students taking the tests as there could be.

According to the College Board, which runs the AP program, in 2013 about 15 percent of graduating seniors in the U.S. were black. But, black students made up only about 9 percent of AP test takers. That same year — the latest for which reliable comparisons are available — low-income students made up 48 percent of the high school population, but only about 28 percent of AP test takers.

Access to advanced high school courses is only part of the problem. The majority of high schools in the U.S. offer some AP classes. The larger problem, experts say, is participation.

“There are about 650,000 missing students per year — low-income students and students of color — who would participate in advanced courses in their high schools if given the opportunity to participate at the same rate as other students,” says Reid Saaris, president of Equal Opportunity Schools, a non-profit that works with schools to increase that opportunity.

EOS is among a group of education and business organizations spearheading a $100 million spend aimed at getting more under-represented students into AP and International Baccalaureate classes. The initiative, announced Tuesday, aims to identify and enroll 100,000 new students during the next three years.

Research shows high-achieving minority and low-income students are often overlooked when it comes to AP and IB programs. Saaris cites several reasons, including perceptions by educators that certain students are not "right" for advanced classes, and a lack of information among parents and students about AP or IB.

Natalie Rodriguez Jansorn, director of strategic initiatives for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which is helping fund the $100 million project, says students who participate in AP courses are more likely to enroll in college, and succeed when they get there.

“In particular, we know that there are a significant number of low-income students who are not even being invited or encouraged into AP courses," she says.

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Japan's trade negotiations may be troubled by currency

Tue, 2015-04-28 02:00

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting the U.S. this week, and on his agenda: negotiations for a trade deal between the U.S. and Japan, along with ten other countries. One potential sticking point is the way Japan handles its currency. For the last few years, Japan has pumped more currency into circulation, saying it wants to flight deflation.

“But everyone knows that behind that is definitely a business community that’s has complained for many years that the value of yen too strong,” says Scott Seaman, a senior analyst with the Eurasia Group.

Many Japanese exporters would prefer a weaker yen, so Japan goods become cheaper relative to competitors in other countries. That is why this a trade issue, says Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell.

“Some people in the U.S. are concerned that by opening U.S. markets, and by tolerating other countries' policies that drive down the values of their currencies, the U.S. might lose out,” he says.

Audio for this story is forthcoming.

Japan's trade negotiations may be troubled by currency

Tue, 2015-04-28 02:00

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting the U.S. this week, and on his agenda: negotiations for a trade deal between the U.S. and Japan, along with ten other countries. One potential sticking point is the way Japan handles its currency. For the last few years, Japan has pumped more currency into circulation, saying it wants to flight deflation.

“But everyone knows that behind that is definitely a business community that’s has complained for many years that the value of yen too strong,” says Scott Seaman, a senior analyst with the Eurasia Group.

Many Japanese exporters would prefer a weaker yen, so Japan goods become cheaper relative to competitors in other countries. That is why this a trade issue, says Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell.

“Some people in the U.S. are concerned that by opening U.S. markets, and by tolerating other countries' policies that drive down the values of their currencies, the U.S. might lose out,” he says.

Audio for this story is forthcoming.

GDP in Portlandia

Tue, 2015-04-28 01:56
9 percent

In 2013, about 15 percent of graduating high school seniors were black, but only 9 percent took some kind of AP exam. That same year, low-income students made up 48 percent of the graduating class, but only 28 percent of AP test takers. Enrollment in AP classes, or lack thereof, is said to be a large contributor to these numbers. A new $100 million initiative announced Tuesday aims to positively influence participation.

22.8 percent

That's how much Portland's GDP has grown since 2008, far outpacing similarly sized eastern cities. Bloomberg reports a lot of commerce is heading west, with jobs, wages, home prices and the number of young people all on the rise.

5.7 million square feet

Speaking of the West Coast: that's how much office space Google, Linkedin and others proposed for Mountain View, California earlier this year, more than double the development the city had planned for the next 20 years. Silicon Valley is headed for a space crunch, the Wall Street Journal reported, with tech companies expanding far faster than city planners anticipated, and public infrastructure strained.

$1.49

That's the price for the new Fritos taco at Taco Bell, one of several new items the Mexican fast-food chain is experimenting with, Quartz reported. Along with several Fritos tacos, the company is launching new breakfast tacos and other dishes to try and replicate the goofy, viral success of the Doritos Locos Taco.

2017

That's the year by which Tyson promises it will end its use of human antibiotics. As reported by the NY Times, the announcement is considered the final step for the company toward goals it has articulated for some time.

How one high school is closing the AP gap

Tue, 2015-04-28 00:12
If anyone knows the halls and classrooms of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Eastvale, California, it's Adan Esperza.

He’s been the head custodian at Roosevelt for nine years. Esperza's son and daughter know these halls, too. They're students at the high school — good students. Esperza, who was born in Mexico and didn't finish college, has big ambitions for them.

Earlier this year, he received some unexpected letters from the school.

"They said, 'Congratulations, your kid has been chosen to take AP courses at Roosevelt for next year,'" he says.

Esperza says the Advanced Placement courses students can take for college credit hadn't really been on his radar before then.

“I was actually proud to have two of my kids nominated for the program,” he says.

The letters were part of a broader effort by the school district to get more students into AP courses, especially overlooked low-income and minority students who have the skills to succeed.

Esperza has been at the school for many years, walks past AP classes every day and has kids with good grades. And yet, it took a letter from the school letting him know his kids were AP material.

Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Eastvale, California is working with Equal Opportunity Schools to reflect their diverse student body in their AP courses. (Courtesy of Eleanor Roosevelt High School)

Here’s how Jeremy Goins, the principal at Roosevelt explains that discrepancy:

“What it showed me," he says, "Is, 'wow,' even our own families, we don't necessarily advise them properly all the time. We look past that because our systems are in place, and that's the way it's always been done.

About 3,800 attend Roosevelt High. About half of them are Hispanic. But when it comes to AP classes, there are more white and Asian students than there are Hispanic and black students. Those groups are under-represented.

“Sometimes, we don't have systems to catch those kids that have a lot of potential, that aren't necessarily in the group of kids that typically take those high-achieving classes," Goins says.

To start catching those kids, Goin’s district brought in Equal Opportunity Schools, a non-profit that works with schools to help identify kids who are being left behind and help close the so-called participation gap.

"There are about two-thirds of a million missing students per year, who are low income, African American students, Latino students, who could be successful in AP classes, IB classes — the toughest classes in their school, if given that chance,” says Reid Saaris, EOS executive director.

But parents, like Esperza, aren't always aware of AP opportunities. Teachers don't think of some kids as "AP material." And many low-income and minority kids don't see themselves as AP kids.

“They may take a look in an AP class and say, 'That doesn't look like there's anyone who looks like me in there, I don't really belong,'" Saaris says.

EOS uses data to help change those perceptions, without trying to point fingers.


Federal Way school district in Washington increased the number of low-income and minority students taking advanced classes, while keeping exam pass rates stable. (Courtesy of EOS Schools)

"The conversations around race and class and assumptions, aren’t as hard as [you] might expect when you bring data to the table,” Saaris says. “Because it can be less about assumptions and more about what the data says.”

To get that data at Roosevelt, EOS staff surveyed all the students in the school, about their hopes and ambitions, and about whether they feel challenged in their classes.

They were asked questions about grit and perseverance. Teachers were asked which students they thought could succeed. Then EOS bundled up all that information, along with grades and test scores, and created a profile for each eligible student It looks almost like a baseball card, with a picture and performance stats.

Joelle Carreon is a 10th grade student at Roosevelt. Her card, she says, had five stars, "which meant that five teachers from this campus were encouraging me to take an AP class.”

Before he got his card, 11th grader Christian Esplana was already very involved in extracurricular activities. He had good grades and was planning for college, but he had never taken an AP class.

“It felt good knowing that I'm at a level that AP students are,” he says. “I have doubted myself before, but now I feel confident."

That's EOS's goal — to build that confidence, because research shows kids who take rigorous courses in high school have a better shot at getting into college, and a better chance of succeeding once they get there.

To get the word out, Roosevelt also held presentations about AP and “AP Rush Days" where potential students could talk to current students about the work load and other questions.

When it came time for registration? Counselor David Sánchez says it all paid off.

“I think because of their awareness, the conversations we're having with them, is much more, 'I've heard of these AP classes, I want to try it, I want to push for it,'" he says.

Next fall at Roosevelt, there will be 700 new spots in AP classes, and a 15 percent increase in the number of Hispanic and black students who registered for AP courses.

And, one of those students will be the daughter of Adan Esperza, the school’s head custodian.

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Interactive by Dan Hill and Cindy Santini

On the ground from Kathmandu, Nepal

Mon, 2015-04-27 13:36

Aid workers from all over the world are flying to Kathmandu, Nepal to provide services for those affected by Saturday's devastating earthquake.

Blackouts and scarce supplies are challenging, but the main concern is drinking water. If that shortage isn't addressed quickly, the government is concerned it could lead to the spread of disease, especially since people are already spending late nights out in the open. That, in turn, would present a whole new problem for authorities and aid agencies that are coming in.

The airport is packed with flights bringing workers, as well as commercial planes that have added trips to bring supplies into the region, and people out.

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder is in Kathmandu, where much of the city was reduced to rubble.

"There are a lot of agencies on the ground," he says. "You can see them and identify them, but the scale of the problem is quite big, so of course, it’s never going to be enough…certainly not now."

There was a lot of political turmoil in Nepal in the past decade, and the region was not equipped with a disaster management plan. That’s why the government was very quick to accept that this was too much for it to handle.

Majumder is staying in a hotel, but he says no one is sleeping in their rooms because there have been a number of aftershocks that are frightening. He and the others in town are sleeping near exits, by the pool, or in the hotel lobby.

Service Info: It's like Yelp...but for refugees

Mon, 2015-04-27 13:04

In its work providing relief for refugees around the world, the International Rescue Committee has two daunting crises on its hands at the moment: the European migrant crisis and the situation in Syria.

IRC President and CEO David Miliband says in the aftermath of the latest tragedy involving migrants at sea, “European attention has been dragged back to what is a problem that hasn’t just occurred in the last three weeks. Obviously (those events) — 700, 800, a thousand people dying in the space of two days — refocused attention.”

He says the options in Northern Africa are limited, causing many people to move to Europe for a better life. Miliband believes that Europeans are not standing together on the issue — “Italians and Greeks are being expected to handle it on their own more or less, rather than as a united European response,” he says.

When he speaks to high level officials about getting Europe to join forces on the migrant issue, he says he often gets three responses: That they regret the end of the Mare Nostrum program last November, led by the Italian Navy, which saved thousands of migrant lives at sea. That it's very tough to tackle this issue at the source. And that the EU’s bandwidth is stretched as it is dealing with the euro crisis and the Ukraine confrontation with Russia.

As for hands on work, the IRC currently has over 2,000 workers in Syria and in neighboring countries focusing on health, education, and on some protection for women and girls. It's releasing a new website for refugees to find out about, and rate, resources to ease the transition to life a new country. “The refugees from Syria are educated people; they are tech-savvy people. Until now, there’s been no proper tech platform for them to find out what services are available to them. The IRC and US government are creating, for the first time, a kind of "Yelp for refugees" in Lebanon,” says Miliband.

The platform is called Service Info and will allow refugees to add comments on services, like, “This supermarket treated me well. This hospital treated me well.” That kind of feedback will improve the quality of services, as well as broadcast the services that are available, he says. 

Currently Service Info is being piloted in Lebanon, a country of 5 million people — with 1.5  million of those who are refugees. It's the equivalent of Germany’s population moving to America.

Miliband left politics to take the position as CEO at IRC. Of this shift, he says, “I feel I’m helping people whose lives are affected by breakdown of politics, because what is a civil war other than the failure of politics? Now I’m out of politics. I’m at the other end of the telescope. What I always say to people is that the humanitarian sector can stanch the dying, but it takes politics to stop the killing and you need both.”

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