Local hero: Florida hotelier Harris Rosen keeps his giving close to home

By Beth Pinsker

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Harris Rosen has a chain of eight hotels bearing his name in the Orlando area, but he makes most of his headlines these days for giving away his fortune.

The 80-year-old entrepreneur of Rosen Hotels & Resorts, who grew up on the Lower East Side of New York, adopted the Tangelo Park neighborhood near his hotels and has paid for preschool programs and college for local students. Among some of his other many causes: He endowed the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, and he has been involved in charity efforts in Haiti, the home country of many of his staff.

Rosen’s business also recently expanded its generous, self-funded health plan called RosenCare to cover the health clinic for teachers in Osceola County.

Rosen spoke to Reuters about how he came to make his fortune and then give it away.

Q: Who first taught you money values?

A: It came from my two granddads. Both of them came from Eastern Europe. One had a little restaurant on Lower East Side; the other made wooden barrels.

When my mom and dad got married, they went into business together to purchase little apartments where immigrants stayed. Unfortunately, there was a fairly significant depression in 1920s. They lost everything because they would not ask anyone to leave.

One night they came over, and said, essentially, you have something in your genes. You are going to be a businessperson, but don’t ever borrow money.

I’ve lived with that all my life: I’m going to be a businessperson, and I can’t borrow money. That’s impossible! The first hotel I bought, I put down $20,000 and assumed a $2.5 million mortgage.

I will tell you now with great pride 45 years later, though, with 7,000 rooms, we don’t have a penny of debt.

Q: What did your first job teach you?

A: When I was 10, I overheard fishermen talking about how badly they needed worms. So I went into the night crawler business. I hunted them with a flashlight, and then arrived early at fishing pier.

I learned that you try to find something that people need and want, charge a fair price and save as much as you can.

Q: Once you got some money together, what was your investing philosophy?

A: One of the first stocks I bought was Avon, because I met some of the ladies who ran the company. They said, “Harris, Buy the stock.” I couldn’t buy more than 10-15 shares, but I’d look at Avon every morning, and I did very well.

Then I bought Automatic Data Processing, because the grandmother of the company founder worked as a clerk in their sales office at the Waldorf Astoria where I also worked.

I don’t think I’ve owned anything other than my company for about maybe 45 years. I invest only in Rosen.

Q: When did you start getting very generous with employee benefits?

A: Early on, about 30 years ago, I discovered I wasn’t very happy with our whole health plan. I didn’t understand why our premiums would go up year after year.

We had a tiny little office where our accounting folks stayed, but they outgrew it. I said, we’ll convert it to primary care health center. I called a friend who knew insurance and said, ‘Help me start my own insurance company.’ Then I said: ‘Let’s look for a doctor.’

We focus on keeping people healthy.

Q: You have many charity projects, how do you decide how to give away your money?

A: About 25 years ago, sitting at my desk, I heard a voice and it said, “Harris, you have been blessed beyond anything you imagined, and now it would be appropriate to offer a helping hand to those in need.”

Q: How do you pass along this legacy of giving to your children and grandchildren?

A: I just think they need to do the kind of work that they enjoy. They need to be honest and treat people with respect, and if they are in the position to become philanthropic, what they need to do is express that generosity by helping others.

I’m very happy with the way things are working out. I love the opportunity that I have had to offer a helping hand to so many people.

(Follow us @ReutersMoney or at http://www.reuters.com/finance/personal-finance. Editing by Lauren Young and Cynthia Osterman)

Teenager kills 17 in Crimea college shooting: Russian officials

Flowers are seen placed at a memorial by the Kremlin walls to commemorate the victims of a fatal attack on a college in the Crimean port city of Kerch, in Moscow, Russia October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

By Polina Nikolskaya and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

MOSCOW (Reuters) – At least 17 people were killed and dozens injured at a college in the Black Sea region of Crimea on Wednesday when a student went through the building shooting at fellow pupils before killing himself, Russian law enforcement officials said.

Eighteen-year-old Vladislav Roslyakov turned up at the college in the city of Kerch on Wednesday afternoon carrying a firearm and then began shooting, investigators said. His body was later found in the college with what they said were self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

There were no immediate clues as to his motive in mounting such an attack, which recalled similar shooting sprees carried out by students in U.S. schools.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, prompting international condemnation and Western sanctions, but since then there have been no major outbreaks of violence there.

Many of the victims from Wednesday’s attacks were teenage students who suffered shrapnel and bullet wounds.

Pupils and staff described scenes of mayhem as panicked pupils tried to flee the building. They said the attack had started with an explosion, followed by more blasts, and a hail of gunfire.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a meeting in the southern Russian resort of Sochi with his Egyptian counterpart, declared a moment’s silence for the victims.

“This is a clearly a crime,” he said. “The motives will be carefully investigated.”

“CHILDREN’S BODIES EVERYWHERE”

The director of the school, Olga Grebennikova, described the scene that she encountered when she entered the college building after the attack.

“There are bodies everywhere, children’s bodies everywhere. It was a real act of terrorism. They burst in five or 10 minutes after I’d left. They blew up everything in the hall, glass was flying,” Grebennikova told Crimean media outlets.

Law enforcement officers gather at the scene of a fatal attack on a college in the port city of Kerch, Crimea October 17, 2018. Ekaterina Kejzo/Courtesy of Kerch.FM/Handout via REUTERS TV

Law enforcement officers gather at the scene of a fatal attack on a college in the port city of Kerch, Crimea October 17, 2018. Ekaterina Kejzo/Courtesy of Kerch.FM/Handout via REUTERS TV

“They then ran about throwing some kind of explosives around, and then ran around the second floor with guns, opened the office doors, and killed anyone they could find.”

Soon after the attack, Russian officials said they were investigating the possibility that it was terrorism. Troops with armored personnel carriers were sent to the scene. Local parents were told to collect their children from the city’s schools and kindergartens for their safety.

However, the Investigative Committee, the state body that investigates major crimes, said later that it was re-classifying the case from terrorism to mass murder.

Officials had previously given the death toll as 18, but the Committee revised that to 17 killed. An employee at Kerch’s hospital said dozens of people were being treated for their injuries in the emergency room and in the operating theater.

Anastasia Yenshina, a 15-year-old student at the college, said she was in a toilet on the ground floor of the building with some friends when she heard the sound of an explosion.

“I came out and there was dust and smoke, I couldn’t understand, I’d been deafened,” she told Reuters. “Everyone started running. I did not know what to do. Then they told us to leave the building through the gymnasium.”

“Everyone ran there… I saw a girl lying there. There was a child who was being helped to walk because he could not move on his own. The wall was covered in blood. Then everyone started to climb over the fence, and we could still hear explosions. Everyone was scared. People were crying.”

Photographs from the scene of the blast showed that the ground floor windows of the two-story building had been blown out, and that debris was lying on the floor outside.

Emergency services teams could be seen in the photographs carrying wounded people from the building on makeshift stretchers and loading them on to buses and ambulances.

A second pupil at the college, who gave his name as Sergei, said he had taken a few steps out of the building into the street when the first blast went off. He was hit by debris from the blast and injured in the leg.

Sergei, 15, told Reuters he ran to another building but said he could hear more explosions going off every few seconds. He took cover and after the attack was over, he was taken to hospital in an ambulance.

“I arrived at the hospital, the scene there was awful. They’re bringing in people all covered in blood, some with arms missing, some with legs missing.”

(Reporting by Moscow newsroom; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Gareth Jones)

College pay-off seems elusive for many U.S. young people

FILE PHOTO: Graduating students arrive for Commencement Exercises at Boston College in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. on May 20, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Phot

By Gail MarksJarvis

CHICAGO (Reuters) – When Scott Petracco graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in biology eight years ago, he thought he would quickly get a job in a laboratory and pay off $30,000 in student loans.

But the country was just emerging from the 2007-2009 recession, and he could not find a job related to his degree. Now, at age 30, he works part-time as a kidney dialysis technician in Chicago for $15 an hour. Since that does not pay the bills, he also has a second job loading freight.

“It’s nothing very exciting, but it pays well,” said Petracco, who does not think the money he spent on college was worth it. Tormented by his student loans, he has given up on going to medical school or working in his field, and is devoting “every dime I have into getting rid of the debt within six years.”

Petracco is not unusual. A study by the Federal Reserve published in May found that half of people under 30 with bachelor’s degrees wonder if the money they spent on college was worth it. It is a stunning finding in the Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017 https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/files/2017-report-economic-well-being-us-households-201805.pdf, and evidence that the generation that finished college right after the Great Recession is turning into the “lost generation” some economists predicted a decade ago.

Separate research by the St. Louis Federal Reserve has found that rather than bouncing back from bad economic times, the wealth of the millennial generation has decreased since 2010 and is far less than their parents’ generation at a similar stage in life.

“The generation born in the 1980s has not seen the college pay-off,” said William Emmons, an economist with the St. Louis Fed.

A key to this: Pay has not kept up with the cost of college borrowing.

Even though job opportunities have improved since the recession, Emmons thinks this year’s graduates could be weighed down by the same trends.

Although unemployment has declined to just 5.3 percent for young college graduates, the New York Federal Reserve reported in April that 42.5 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed, working in jobs that do not require college degrees.

While engineers are doing fine, with only 17 percent of industrial engineers underemployed, some 57 percent of liberal arts majors and 49 percent of biological science majors are underemployed.

That suggests that Petracco’s problem finding a job stemmed not just from the recession. So many people now go to college that competition for jobs is intense. And because so many people with college degrees are available to employers, “We should not expect to go back to the 90s with big increases in salary,” for graduates, said Emmons.

GENERATION GAP

Buyer’s remorse over the big college purchase among 20-somethings fits the times. There has been a tremendous change in prosperity since baby boomers went to college.

For the generation born in the 1950s and 60s, when far fewer people went to college, graduating from college lifted incomes for young adults 57 percent higher than people who did not go to college, according to the St. Louis Fed. Now it is just 43 percent higher for people born in the 1980s, who now in their 30s or late 20s.

There has been an even worse drop-off in the ability to build wealth among people who went to college. Baby boomers born in the 1950s bought homes shortly after college and quickly built wealth in their 20s and 30s. Their wealth was 185 percent more than peers who had not gone to college.

Today, after borrowing heavily for college and starting jobs with relatively stagnant pay, those born in the 1980s have wealth only 42 percent above peers who did not go to college.

Housing – both rentals and buying – is unaffordable in many major metropolitan areas. Freddie Mac recently reported that less than half of college graduates could afford to live independently in cities. Fewer own homes.

Those who do buy often do so with help from a parent or grandparent, said Dana Bull, a 29-year-old Boston real estate agent who caters to her generation.

Having a college degree has not helped some of her peers, who struggle to get jobs. Then, Bull said, they compound the problem by adding on more debt for master’s degrees.

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Frances Kerry)

Daycare costs harder to afford than college for many; Nation’s fertility rate hits record low

A schoolteacher, who wished to stay unidentified, attempts to catch snowflakes while leading her students to a library from school in the Harlem neighborhood, located in the Manhattan borough of New York on January 10, 2014. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

By Gail MarksJarvis

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Americans are not having enough babies.

The nation’s fertility rate hit a record low in 2017, and one has to wonder: Could the cost of raising children be discouraging a generation that was choked by the Great Recession?

Employment is strong, but pay has been stagnant. College student loans average $35,000, and renting or buying a home is unaffordable in most metro areas. Throw daycare costs of $10,000 a child into the mix, and families ask themselves: How can they afford a baby?

Childcare is the third-largest expense in the family budget, behind food and housing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which calculated last year that middle class families spend $233,610 raising a child to the age of 18.

“Daycare is a crisis and a much bigger problem than college,” says Betsey Stevenson, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, who wonders why there is not a massive public outcry for relief.

Both presidential candidates raised the issue in the last campaign, and Congress then doubled the child tax credit to $2,000.

But there has been no daycare legislation. Rather than organizing politically, it appears that 20- and 30-somethings are voting with their reproductive systems.

The only age group with a rising fertility rate in 2017 was women 40 to 44 years old, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. In addition, 20 percent of parents in a Care.com survey said they would have fewer children than they wanted because of childcare costs.

Lisa Anderson, 30, is among the stressed-out mothers. She commutes daily from a rural home to work at her government consulting job in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, devoting a quarter of her family income to her 10-month-old son’s daycare.

She worries how she and her husband will afford a second child. Daycare for one baby costs close to $10,000; with two, it would total half of the couple’s take-home income.

With about $1,000 in monthly student loan payments, “I’m starting to regret what I spent on graduate school,” Anderson said. But she and others in her generation cannot undo past decisions, they can only control when and if they’ll have children.

BIG COSTS

For working parents, daycare costs are rising at almost twice the nation’s inflation rate since the recession.

Government guidelines suggest a ratio of 10 percent of income for childcare. But the median family with children under six earned $68,808 in 2016, about $20,000 short of making the median $8,320 annual daycare cost affordable, according to a Brookings Institute analysis of Census data.

Infant care at $10,400 is harsher, and the quality daycare preferred by people with incomes over $150,000 costs $11,652, according to Brookings analyst Grover Whitehurst. In expensive areas of the country, that goes up to $18,000 per child.

Nannies are even more costly – averaging about $28,905 a year nationally, according to Care.com. As a result, only about 4 percent of families use them, according to Census data.

Most parents have limited options for cutting costs other than drawing on help from family, sharing caregivers, compromising quality and having fewer children.

Some states offer subsidies, but most go to low-income people. Families get a little tax relief if they claim the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit at tax time or use a flexible spending account at work to stash money away for childcare on a pre-tax basis.

Financial planners calm parents by telling them they can catch up with retirement and college saving after their children enter school.

But Rachel Brewer, a San Diego mother of three children between seven and nine, questions that. “Kids were the cheapest when babies. I spent $5 for a can of formula. Now, I sweat bullets every time I take the kids to the dentist,” she said.

(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Dan Grebler)

Student tax breaks survive the tax bill, make the most of them

Graduates celebrate receiving a Masters in Business Administration from Columbia University during the year's commencement ceremony in New York in this May 18, 2005 file photo. dreams of many college seniors. REUTERS/Chip East/Files

By Gail MarksJarvis

CHICAGO (Reuters) – If you are going to college, getting extra training for a job, or paying off student loans, there are myriad tax breaks worth thousands of dollars to people burdened by college costs.

Although many were threatened in early versions of the tax bills crafted by the Senate and House and Representatives, students can breathe a sigh of relief that the benefits all remain. Tax experts suggest using these strategies before the end of December to get every penny possible:

* Student loan interest deduction

About 12.4 million borrowers make use of this deduction. You can deduct up to $2,500 in interest per year, which can result in tax savings that for some top $600.

The deduction depends on how much you have paid in a single tax year toward your student loans and also depends on your income.

If your loan payments made so far for 2017 do not qualify for the $2,500 maximum deduction and you are still paying off student loans, consider paying more before the end of the year to boost the deduction, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of www.Cappex.com. You can find out how much interest you have paid so far this year from the student loan servicer that collects your monthly payments.

To take the full $2,500 deduction, an individual cannot have a modified adjusted gross income over $65,000, and for couples $135,000. For individuals with incomes up to $80,000 and for married couples earning up to $165,000, smaller deductions apply.

Paying extra by Dec. 31 would be particularly wise if your income next year is likely to put you over the income cutoff, said Gil Charney, director of tax and policy analysis for The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

* College credits

Both the American Opportunity Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit provide tax breaks to help pay for education, but apply to different stages.

For undergrads, the American Opportunity Credit is worth up to $2,500 per year, but can be used only for the first four years of college. Students must attend at least half-time.

If you have not paid enough tuition and fees to qualify for the full credit this year and have been billed for the first quarter or semester in 2018, consider paying the bill now to maximize the 2017 credit, Charney said. The credit covers 100 percent of the first $2,000 in tuition and fees paid in a year; then 25 percent of the next $2,000.

Remember, there are income limits. You can’t get the full credit with modified adjusted gross income over $80,000; $160,000 for couples.

If your income will exceed the limit in 2018 but qualifies in 2017, this would be the year to capture as much as possible.

The same strategy applies to the Lifetime Learning Credit, which is valuable to part-time students, graduate students or workers trying to enhance job opportunities with an extra course or training.

The Lifetime Learning Credit is worth $2,000, or 20 percent of the first $10,000 spent in a year. So consider paying ahead for 2018 education, especially if you are near an income cutoff: over $56,000 in modified adjusted gross income for individuals, or $112,000 for couples for the maximum credit.

Keep in mind that if two spouses are going to school they cannot both claim the $2,000; it is a maximum per household. The American Opportunity Credit is kinder because it applies per student. Parents with three children in college at the same time could claim the credit for each child and do it annually for the four years a child is in an undergraduate program.

For more details, see IRS Publication 970

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Leslie Adler)

New York college lecturer placed on leave after ‘dead cops’ comment

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – A lecturer at a New York City college of criminal justice who wrote on social media that he teaches “future dead cops” was placed on leave on Friday, the school’s president said, as the city’s mayor called the academic’s comment “vile.”

John Jay College of Criminal Justice adjunct professor Michael Isaacson has taught courses in economics and is a self-described member of the anti-fascist, or antifa, movement.

Many students at John Jay eventually join the New York Police Department.

On Friday, Pat Lynch the head of New York’s largest police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, sent John Jay’s president a letter calling for Isaacson’s dismissal. Lynch highlighted an Aug. 23 tweet.

“Some of y’all might think it sucks being an anti-fascist teaching at John Jay College but I think it’s a privilege to teach future dead cops,” Isaacson wrote in the post on Twitter, according to a screen-grab from the union.

Lynch’s letter accused Isaacson of promoting violence against police.

The criticism of Isaacson’s social media post follows heightened scrutiny of law enforcement over officers’ use of force against minorities. The country has also seen a number of targeted killings of police officers, including the shooting death of five officers in Dallas last year.

John Jay College President Karol Mason said in a statement on Friday that John Jay faculty members had received death threats and that Isaacson was placed on administrative leave “out of concern for the safety” of students, faculty and staff. The college is reviewing the matter, Mason said.

“I am appalled that anyone associated with John Jay, with our proud history of supporting law enforcement authorities, would suggest that violence against police is ever acceptable,” Mason said.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday wrote on Twitter the city “won’t stand for the vile anti-police rhetoric of Michael Isaacson and neither should John Jay College.”

Isaacson appeared on Fox News on Thursday, where during an interview by host Tucker Carlson he defended the antifa movement.

Isaacson’s television appearance appears to have drawn increased attention to his Aug. 23 Twitter post.

Isaacson, in a statement on Friday, said he critiques “policing as an institution which operates at the behest of a state that increasingly represents the weapons and prison industry.”

“My biggest regret is putting my students and the John Jay faculty and staff at risk,” he said in a separate statement by email.

 

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Tom Hogue)

 

Duke University removes contentious Confederate statue after vandalism

The empty plinth where a statue of Confederate commander General Robert E. Lee once stood is flanked by statues of Thomas Jefferson and the poet Sidney Lanier at the entrance to Duke University's Duke Chapel after officials removed the controversial statue early Saturday morning in Durham, North Carolina, U.S., August 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Miczek

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – Duke University removed a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the entrance of a chapel on the Durham, North Carolina, campus, officials said on Saturday, days after it was vandalized.

The decision to take down the statue followed discussions among students, faculty, staff and alumni about maintaining safety on campus, university President Vincent E. Price said in a statement.

“I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university,” Price said.

The prestigious university will preserve the statue of Lee, who led Confederate forces in the American Civil War of 1861-1865, and use it as an educational tool so that students can study “Duke’s complex past,” Price added.

The Confederacy, comprised of 11 Southern states, broke from the Union largely to preserve the institution of slavery.

Symbols of the Confederacy have come into focus since last weekend, when white nationalists, angered at the planned removal of a statue of Lee from a park in Charlottesville, Virginia, engaged in violent protests where a counter-protester was killed.

The Robert E. Lee statue, one of 10 outside Duke Chapel, was vandalized and defaced late on Wednesday night. Campus security discovered the damage early Thursday, according to university officials. The incident was under investigation.

“Wednesday night’s act of vandalism made clear that the turmoil and turbulence of recent months do not stop at Duke’s gates,” Price said.

“We have a responsibility to come together as a community to determine how we can respond to this unrest in a way that demonstrates our firm commitment to justice, not discrimination,” he said.

Duke will form a committee to advise the school on how to properly memorialize historical figures on campus, and to recommend teaching programs, exhibitions and forums to explore its past.

There are more than 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy, including 700 monuments and statues, in public spaces across the United States, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

The large majority of these were erected long after the Civil War ended in 1865. Many went up early in the 20th century during a backlash among segregationists against the civil rights movement.

More than a half-dozen have been taken down since last week.

 

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

 

Case of missing China scholar rattles compatriots at U.S. colleges

Chinese student Yingying Zhang is seen in a still image from security camera video taken outside an MTD Teal line bus in Urbana, Illinois, U.S. June 9, 2017. University of Illinois Police/Handout via REUTERS

By Julia Jacobs

CHICAGO(Reuters) – For many of the 300,000 Chinese students at U.S. colleges and their parents back home, the presumed kidnapping of a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois confirmed their worst fears about coming to America to study.

Xinyi Zhang, a 21-year-old student from China who is studying accounting at the same Illinois school that the missing woman was attending, said the case has stirred deep anxiety for her and her family in China.

She said she had tried to shield her parents from details of the disappearance of Yingying Zhang, 26, who came to Illinois several months ago to study photosynthesis and crop productivity. But the Chinese media had covered the story too closely to keep them in the dark.

“I just don’t want them to be panicked,” said Xinyi Zhang, who is not related to the missing woman. “I am the only child they have, and the risk of losing me is just too huge to handle.”

The business school student, who is home for the summer before returning to Illinois next month for her senior year, said her parents worry about her going back to her off-campus apartment. They have even suggested she apply to graduate school in a different country.

The case came to a head this month when a 28-year-old former Illinois graduate student, Brendt Christensen, was charged with kidnapping Zhang, who went missing on June 9. Authorities believe she is dead, though no body has been found.

Her misfortune has become a near-obsession with many of the 300,000 Chinese international students at U.S. colleges and their parents half a world away, lighting up social media and animating long-distance phone calls.

State-sponsored Chinese news media outlets have framed the case as emblematic of a security problem in the United States. The People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, wrote earlier this month that the kidnapping shows that China is “much safer” than America.

On Weibo, a Chinese blogging site, commenters have repeatedly questioned the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s effectiveness in investigating the case, said Berlin Fang, a Chinese newspaper columnist based in the United States.

Xiaotong Gui, a 20-year-old math student at Pomona College outside Los Angeles, said reading about the case made her feel unsafe on her own campus nearly 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from the Illinois university, which draws thousands of students from China.

On Johns Hopkins University’s Baltimore campus, Luorongxin Yuan, a 20-year-old biology student from outside Nanjing, said the fact that the accused kidnapper was a graduate student has made her mother particularly anxious. “She doesn’t trust anyone here anymore,” Yuan said.

Before Christensen’s arrest, federal agents put him under surveillance and heard him say that he had kidnapped Zhang, court documents show. A search of the suspect’s cellphone revealed that he had visited a website that included threads on “perfect abduction fantasy.”

His attorney has said his client is still presumed innocent. If convicted, Christensen could face up to life in prison.

Shen Qiwen, a spokesman for the Chinese consulate in Chicago, said Chinese officials hoped the FBI would step up efforts to find the missing scholar. The FBI is involved in the case because kidnapping is a federal crime. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Illinois business student Xinyi Zhang said many Chinese students are hoping for a miracle.

“That could be me,” she said. “For some reason I’m still holding my hope, though, that there’s a tiny, tiny chance that she’s alive right now.”

(Reporting by Julia Jacobs; editing by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. college teaches veterans to heal each others’ mental wounds

Dr. Bob Dingman, Director of the Military and Veterans Psychology Concentration, speaks to Reuters at William James College of Psychology, the first in the nation to run a program focusing specifically on training military veterans to treat the mental health problems of their fellow soldiers and veterans, in Newton, Massachusetts, U.S., May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Scott Malone

NEWTON, Mass. (Reuters) – Former U.S. Army Specialist Tara Barney will never forget the 2013 night when a fellow soldier cried as he described holding a dying friend in his arms, a wartime memory he had not shared with anyone.

“I can’t even talk to my wife like this,” she recalled her friend saying. “Nobody would understand.”

Barney, now 34, says that moment defined her future.

She finished her four-year enlistment and enrolled in William James College, which says it is the only U.S. psychology graduate school focused on training veterans as counselors.

Founded in 2011, the school’s programs aim to address the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental health conditions experienced by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other conflicts.

“If you talk to most vets, they want to talk to people who have had the same sets of experiences,” said Robert Dingman, the director of military and veterans psychology at the school, located west of Boston. “We don’t believe by any means that only vets can help vets, but we think it’s a good career pathway.”

Estimates of how many of the country’s 19 million veterans experience mental health problems vary widely. A federal government report released last year found that about 40 percent of veterans who received care through the Veterans Health Administration were diagnosed with a mental health or substance abuse condition, most commonly depression, followed by post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other data suggest that figure may represent a higher rate of mental health and substance abuse than is seen among the overall population of veterans. An analysis of medical research by the RAND Corp think tank found that rates of PTSD likely range from 5 percent to 20 percent of veterans.

CULTURES COLLIDE

William James College wants to bridge the cultural divide between veterans, some of whom view seeking mental health care as akin to admitting weakness, and psychologists and counselors, many of whom know little about military culture.

The gap is wide enough that Barney’s fellow student, Adam Freed, left a graduate psychology program at Yale University when he realized he was failing to connect with patients’ issues related to their or their loved ones’ military service.

“It was just something that was completely alien to me,” said Freed, 31. “I became increasingly interested in why didn’t I get it?”

Freed decided the best way to understand was to enlist. He signed up for the New York Army National Guard and went on to serve a tour in Afghanistan before enrolling at William James. This month he returned to active duty as an Army captain and military psychologist.

The college, previously known as the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology before renaming itself after the 19th-century philosopher, regarded as one of the founding thinkers of American psychology and brother to novelist Henry James, boasts a growing population of veterans, who this year represented about 50 of its 750 students.

Barney said her friends and even her wife were skeptical when she told them she was planning a career in psychology after stints as a prison guard and working on Army missile systems.

But the experience with her fellow soldier friend had convinced her that her military service would be invaluable as a counselor, she said, adding, “Some people just don’t want to know the veteran’s experience.”

Several students in the program said they also hope to overcome the cultural gaps that can make it harder for therapists to connect with veterans.

Fewer than one in 12 adult Americans have served in the armed forces, and the students said many veterans are wary of discussing their wartime experiences with people who do not share a military background.

Freed recalled a psychologist asking him during a job interview what it felt like to be “blown up.” Freed had avoided such an incident in combat but said he did not consider the topic as appropriate for casual conversation.

“I don’t think people ask about other forms of trauma with the same laissez-faire attitude,” Freed said. “I would confidently say that they would not ask, ‘What was it like to be raped?’ These are both things that are extremely, extremely traumatic and yet they are treated in a very different way.”

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)

Bond market braces for impact of New York’s free tuition plan

Graduates celebrate receiving a Masters in Business Administration from Columbia University during the year's commencement ceremony in New York in this May 18, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Chip East/Files

By David Randall

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Little known private colleges that are already struggling to grow their revenues are facing a new threat that could further weaken their finances and make borrowing harder: free tuition at public universities.

The State of New York passed in April a bill that will by 2019 offer free tuition at community colleges and public universities in the state to residents whose families make less than $125,000 per year. At least six other states are considering similar laws, to ease the burden of student debt that has doubled since 2008 to over $1.3 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Fund managers expect that such initiatives, combined with other pressures that have long been building up, will cause bonds issued by smaller private colleges to fare far worse than the broader market if interest rates continue to rise.

So far the bond market has largely ignored such a threat as historically low rates encourage many investors to take on greater risks in search for better yields.

“There are many schools that are going to be losers in this game,” said R.J. Gallo, a portfolio manager at Federated Investors in New York.

Gallo, who owns debt issued by well-known institutions such as Northeastern University in Boston and Northwestern University in suburban Chicago, said that bonds of lower-rated schools yield only about 1.3 percentage points more than AAA-rated ones. That, for him, is not enough to compensate for the additional risk.

Nearly 80 percent of college-age students in New York qualify for the scholarship, according to state estimates. While the state has yet to say how many new students it expects to take advantage of the plan, analysts say that they expect a significant number forgoing private colleges located in the Northeast and opting for public options instead.

RECORD HIGH ‘DISCOUNT RATES’

The prospect of competition from free public programs comes at a time when many private colleges are already forced to offer incoming students discounts because of stagnant personal incomes and years of above-inflation tuition hikes.

The proportion of gross tuition revenue that is covered by grant-based financial aid averaged a record 49.1 percent for full-time freshmen in the current school year, according to a May 15 report by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

The average U.S. private non-profit four year institution charges $45,370 per year in tuition, room and board, a 12 percent increase over the last five years, according to the College Board. Graphic: http://tmsnrt.rs/2qHVUBj

Moody’s forecasts that financial pressures will triple the number of schools that close their doors nationwide from today’s rate of two to three schools per year. Free public education will add to those pressures, said Christopher Collins, an analyst at Moody’s.

“It’s a highly competitive sector and there’s also now the fact that these really small schools are competing with public colleges and universities with a much lower price,” he said.

Given that there are more than 1,000 private colleges and universities nationwide, closures are rare.

Earlier this year, Connecticut’s Sacred Heart University and St. Vincent’s College announced plans for a potential consolidation. Last November, Dowling College in Long Island, New York, filed for bankruptcy after defaulting on $54 million in debt issued through local government agencies.

New York’s scholarship plan alone is unlikely to cause any private school to go under, said college financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz, the president of consulting service Cerebly Inc. Instead, regional private schools that tout their small class sizes may lose their appeal if the competition from free programs forces them to lower tuition and they try to offset that by increasing enrollment.

“These colleges justify their costs by saying that you will get a more personal education, but will increasingly start to fail,” he said, adding that he expects to see more private colleges closing their doors over the next decade.

Nicholos Venditti, a bond fund manager at Thornburg Investment Management in Santa Fe, New Mexico, said he has been cutting his funds’ exposure to private college debt in part because other states could soon emulate New York’s model.

“If free tuition becomes a widespread phenomenon, it puts pressure on every higher education model throughout the country,” he said.

(Reporting by David Randall; Editing by Jennifer Ablan and Tomasz Janowski)