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Coronavirus Crisis Underscores the Traits of a Resilient College

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How institutions are approaching scientific research during COVID-19

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 03/18/2020 - 00:00

Move them online: colleges and universities have been giving professors clear guidance on what to do with their classes during COVID-19, if not quite how to do it. But the directives on what to do with scientific research and equipment-heavy lab work have been much less clear, leaving faculty members, students and some staff members scrambling to adapt to social distancing measures.

“I think there’s a lot of angst, unknowns and anxiety, given that these labs rely on people -- students, postdocs and research assistants,” said Tobin Smith, vice president for policy at the Association of American Universities. “What do you do in an environment where people are essentially being encouraged to stay home and telework?”

Seeking Guidance

Smith has spent this week collecting questions from colleges on scientific research and initial response measures in order to share them with the federal agencies from whom institutions are seeking further guidance. Concerns abound. Among them: Will graduate students working on federal grants still be paid if they can’t do the specific research they’re contracted to do? Will international students working outside their labs maintain their student status? Who will care for live lab animals? What about ongoing experiments involving cultures and other active or sensitive materials?

Some institutions and municipalities have ordered that labs be shut down. Others haven’t. Remarking that residents in California’s Bay Area have been ordered to not only socially distance themselves but to shelter in place, for example, Tobin asked, “What do you do there?”

The Association of Research Universities and Affiliated Medical Centers and the Independent Research Institutes’ Council on Government Relations also has been relaying questions and concerns to government agencies. The council has shared what it has learned so far on its website and in an FAQ sheet. The sheet includes “best assessment” guidance on costs associated with canceled travel plans, project timeline extensions and working from home.

On pay during remote work, in particular, the council said many institutions "develop business continuity plans to guide decision making in emergency situations. If employers ask employees to work remotely and if employees can work successfully in that environment, then their salary can continue to be paid on federally funded sponsored awards."

If an employee cannot successfully work from home -- if the nature of their duties requires them to work on-site, the council says, or they don't have home internet or access to a computer -- and "alternate duties that benefit the project" can't be identified, then a direct charge for that work to a grant award may not be appropriate.

Where research can’t be accessed and will be severely disrupted, the council expects federal agencies “will recognize the difficulties inherent in this situation and work with institutions to facilitate the conduct of the project.” Federal agencies should be notified of problems as soon as possible, the council said.

Leading the Charge

If the AAU and council are acting as official conduits between institutions and the federal agencies, then Johns Hopkins University has emerged as an unofficial conduit. The university was among the first to shut down all noncritical research, with an eye toward public health and ramping up research on the novel coronavirus. It has devoted $1 million in internal funds to this effort and already awarded $250,000 to Arturo Casadevall, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Hopkins. Casadevall last month posited in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that lessons from a 1934 measles outbreak, which led to a vaccine made from survivors’ blood, could prove helpful in transferring COVID-19 immunity to those at highest risk of infection.

Denis Wirtz, vice provost for research and Theophilus Halley Smoot Professor of Engineering Science at Hopkins, said, “We’ve come to realize we were maybe the first to pull the trigger” on scaling down nonessential research. In the interim, he said, Hopkins has been approached by other universities asking to use its COVID-19-related research protocol guidelines, which it willingly shared.

“I’m a firm believer that information like this should be available to everyone,” he said, remarking that on his campus, at least, there has been “remarkably little pushback from researchers, given that Hopkins is all about research and maximizing productivity and having students do the great work they do.”

In addition to having its own conversations with federal agencies -- which Wirtz called mostly encouraging -- Hopkins has developed phases or contingency plans for research involving animals and human subjects. Human subject research is at phase 2, meaning that no new participants should be enrolled in most cases and protocols concerning current participants should be paused where there is a low direct benefit to them. Animal research is at phase 3 starting today, meaning no new experiments. Skeleton crews have been named to perform only essential functions, such as caring for animals.

Leaving the Lab

William Grover, a professor of bioengineering at the University of California, Riverside, shut down his lab this week, based on a Riverside County public health order applying to all schools, colleges and universities. The university previously told instructors to move coursework online.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Grover said of his lab, as “moving our teaching online has taken most of my attention for the last few days.” In particular, he said, “we’re grappling with lab classes and whether students can perform at least some of the experiments away from the lab, using, for example, common household materials.”

As for research, Riverside is working to establish a protocol for limited, critical research activities that can’t be paused, Grover said. “The majority of us,” meanwhile, “will simply shut down our labs, which I fully support.”

Why? “It’ll force us to stay home and hopefully slow the spread of the virus.”

When he’s not teaching or figuring out how to accomplish that, Grover’s at-home work will involve tackling a backlog of reading and writing. He also admitted to “borrowing” a 3-D printer from work, which he’ll use to advance some of his soft robotics research.

While some of his colleagues have difficult issues to sort out, like maintaining animals and cultures, Grover said he’s noticed an “acceptance among my colleagues that, as hard as it is to put research on pause, slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus is the most important thing right now.”

Grover imagined that if the lab wasn’t closed, his hardworking graduate students might try to go in. But in some labs, grad students have reported being pressured by their supervisors to show up despite health guidance against doing so.

Victoria Tokarz, a Ph.D. candidate researching diabetes at the University of Toronto, said she’s thankful to have a principal investigator who scaled down lab operations last week and encouraged students to stay safe. Tokarz completed her last experiments on Friday and is working from home for the foreseeable future. But she criticized Toronto’s administration for not providing the kind of universitywide guidance on closing labs that could have protected those students with less understanding supervisors.

In some ways, Tokarz said, “this unprecedented, global health-care event has been an embarrassing illumination of the arrogance of the scientific community. The amount of researchers who continue to work -- and encourage their teams to work -- during a time when the government is advising that we all stay at home and social distance is reckless and irresponsible.”

Making the Call

There is “no single experiment or laboratory activity that is more important than saving the life of even a single individual in the community,” Tokarz added. And scientists should “follow the advice we are so fervently giving the public: stay home. Social distance, now. Wash your hands.”

While she’s limited in what she can do from there, due to lack of equipment, “the good news is doing a Ph.D. comes with a lot of desk work that we routinely put off or don't have time to do because we're so busy hands-on in the lab.”

The next few weeks will involve work such as writing literature reviews, maintaining and updating laboratory notebooks, organizing data and back-burnered data analysis, Tokarz said. She’ll also be teaching as an assistant in a now-online undergraduate course for 100 students.

On Monday, Toronto’s advice was that the “situation can change quickly so researchers need to prepare to delay, scale back or stop research activities. Public health authorities continue to advise that the risk in the Greater Toronto Area, which includes our three campuses, remains low.”

But on Tuesday, a Toronto spokesperson said via email that “in accordance with guidance from government officials, the university is advising that all lab-based research operations must be shut down no later than 5 p.m.” The university will consider exceptions for “critical COVID-19 research and time-sensitive critical projects, subject to approval and to the university's protocol for approval of critical or time-sensitive research.”

Those who are able to continue their research off-campus should continue “as long as it is safe to do so and should assign appropriate work to trainees and staff,” the spokesperson said.

Safety and Morale

Julie Pfeiffer, professor of microbiology at the University of Texas’s Southwestern Medical Center, shut down her lab late Tuesday. Most lab members have been working from home since Friday. She’ll have two people serving as essential personnel “to maintain critical items in the lab on a very part-time basis.”

Pfeiffer studies viruses, but not coronavirus, “so closing the lab was a very easy decision to make.” The campus, meanwhile, is closing to nonessential personnel today.

“People in the lab are disappointed about shutting down their experiments, but they understand that this is a critical step,” she said. The first and second items on the lab plan Pfeiffer shared with her students are safety (it says STAY HOME in capital letters) and morale. Pfeiffer's expectations are that students work at least five to six hours a day, meeting regularly via Zoom, making high-quality figures for publications, reading, writing papers, analyzing data and learning the statistical programming language R and bioinformatics.

Holden Thorpe, editor-in-chief of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said this week that research institutions “need to shut down all functions except for clinical care, research on the virus and public health communication.”

To support these “vital operations,” Thorp wrote in his editorial, called “Time to Pull Together,” institutions need to provide childcare for scientists and staff members whose children are home from school. Institutions also need to alleviate researchers’ concerns “by extending tenure clocks, guaranteeing status in graduate school and extending postdoctoral contracts.”

As for scientists who are not working on the virus, “we know well that other major problems still exist, such as climate change, inequality and other diseases,” Thorp said. And while it is “understandably very difficult to pause research in other arenas for an indefinite amount of time,” the “crisis is calling for extraordinary measures, and your supportive responses deserve recognition.”

Working from home, Thorp urged, “will make it safer for those who must be in buildings and laboratories to do work related to the virus -- fewer people in the hallways, lunchrooms and other public areas will slow the spread of the virus so that work on COVID-19 can continue.”

On “so many fronts,” Thorp said, “this is a battle of a lifetime and a test of our responsibilities for each other and the strength of our compassion.”

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Pomona students denied emergency housing push alternatives

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 03/18/2020 - 00:00

After being given orders from their institutions to depart campus, students who do not have safe home conditions are organizing to demand colleges and universities provide increased emergency housing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Institutions that have shut down residence halls are offering limited housing if students face “extenuating circumstances” or “have no other option,” said announcements from Harvard University and Pomona College, which both told students they must move out. But at Pomona, a private, residential liberal arts college in Southern California, students said less than half of those who asked to remain on campus have been approved, leaving the remaining students scrambling to find places to stay for the remainder of the spring semester -- or refusing to leave.

Students have turned to virtual “Zoom-based protest action” to organize, write demands, fundraise and express discontent to administrators about what they view as Pomona’s failure to protect the well-being of vulnerable students. This includes students who are homeless, who have violent households or immunocompromised family members, and students who worry they may face more dire COVID-19 outbreaks in their home countries or cities, according to a spokesperson for Occupy Pomona, a coalition of students petitioning to remain on campus.

Pomona prides itself on being a diverse institution with support for first-generation and low-income, or FLI, students, but those same students don’t feel “welcomed or wanted” anymore, said Marie Tano, a junior from Atlanta, who was denied emergency housing. Tano relies on California’s health-care program and sees physicians and psychiatrists in the Claremont area, where Pomona is located, for a heart condition and repeated hernias. Tano’s health makes her vulnerable to COVID-19, which she can’t afford to treat at home, she said.

“Everything I really need to thrive is here,” Tano said. “My dad cannot afford to shell out thousands of dollars to support me … We’re a low-income family, been low-income my entire life.”

Pomona has said students without emergency housing provisions must be moved out of residence halls by today, but Occupy Pomona has said they will refuse to leave. G. Gabrielle Starr, Pomona's president, verbally promised students would not be forcibly evicted after the deadline, but she has not said whether students will be fined for remaining in campus housing, according to Occupy Pomona’s recount of negotiations with administrators on Monday.

The college will provide prorated room and board refunds to all students who depart campus, but the “current population level on our campus is simply unsustainable under public health requirements during this crisis,” Patricia Vest, a college spokeswoman, said in a written statement. The college does not have a final number of students who will be remaining on campus but is “working continuously to help students move off campus to meet urgent public health necessities,” she said.

“Our actions are motivated by the need to protect the health and safety of our entire campus community: students, staff and faculty,” Vest said. “We are not equipped to support an on-campus population in the face of a pandemic of this nature.”

Pomona has taken a “holistic approach” when reviewing student requests for housing during the pandemic, and considered circumstances such as family structure, finances, immigration issues and geographical distance, Avis Hinkson, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said in a written statement.

“It was and is a very difficult decision-making process that had to be done in a very short amount of time with ability to travel diminishing quickly,” Hinkson said.

Pomona’s acceptance of some housing petitions and rejection of others has turned into an “oppression Olympics,” as the college appears to be telling some students they “must be in the most dire need possible in order to get help,” said a 2018 alumna who was FLI and has committed to hosting a student during the campus closure. Some students’ home circumstances put them in more immediate danger than the threat of coronavirus, the alumna said.

“It’s important to know there is no monolithic student story,” said the alumna, who did not want to be named because she fears repercussions at her job. “It doesn’t have to be a student coming from a low-income household. It could be a student that comes from a high-income household that is abusive. Ignoring those intricacies is dangerous.”

The “shortcomings” in colleges’ coronavirus emergency plans are representative of gaps in institutional policy making when FLI students are not involved in decisions, said Chris Sinclair, executive director of external affairs for the First-Generation Low-Income Partnership, or FLIP National, a nonprofit advocacy group for FLI students. Middle-class and affluent college students can afford to be uprooted from campus and move online to finish out the semester, Sinclair said. But FLI students face a number of obstacles.

“In fairness to institutions, this is an unprecedented situation … We’re not criticizing the decision to do what’s in the best interest of public health,” Sinclair said. “What we are doing is asking institutions to think through what they’re doing. It’s a different thing to think about how decisions affect the student body more generally, and the most vulnerable in the student body.”

Petition at Princeton

A coalition of students in need of housing at Princeton University feared they would face a situation similar to those at Harvard, which quickly ordered all students off campus last week, so they created a petition on March 10 for Princeton to “not enforce circumstance-blind evictions upon the student body.” It was signed by more than 3,000 people. And the next day, Princeton released a revised policy with criteria undergraduates could meet to continue to live on campus for the rest of the semester, said Anna Macknick, a junior involved in the university’s FLI Council.

“The problem is that there are students who come from abusive homes and families and that’s not considered a criteria to stay,” Macknick said. “Students have been pushing back on going home because although there’s a physical place, it’s not a safe environment.”

Macknick said some students are “falling through the cracks” who have not been approved for housing as the March 19 move-out deadline approaches, including LGBTQ students whose families do not approve of their sexuality and a friend whose mother is immunocompromised because of chemotherapy treatments.

Macknick’s own petition was approved because she is officially recognized by Princeton as an independent student. She does not have contact with her parents, and her backup plan if denied campus housing was staying with friends or sleeping on her sister’s couch, Macknick said. The coalition has moved on from lobbying administrators to actively helping their peers find apartment sublets or faculty members who have offered to house students in need, Macknick said.

“We’re recognizing that there’s a very real possibility that they don’t get that happy ending,” Macknick said. “We’re finding our own solutions and taking care of ourselves because the university isn’t taking care of us.”

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Black colleges lobby for stimulus funds

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 03/18/2020 - 00:00

Leaders of historically black colleges and universities are strongly advocating for additional federal funding for their institutions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. They say the costs of operating during the public health crisis and managing an array of related challenges threaten the future survival of their struggling institutions.

The United Negro College Fund, which provides general scholarship funds for 37 private historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which represents and supports public HBCUs and other predominantly black institutions, known as PBIs, are leading the effort to help the colleges lobby members of Congress for an additional, one-time allocation of $1.5 billion to help financially strapped HBCUs, PBIs and MSIs, or minority-serving institutions.

The two organizations along with presidents of some of the 105 HBCUs took part in a conference call led by a member of Congress Monday to discuss the financial, logistical and technical problems they are now facing. The call was convened by U.S. House member, Representative Alma Adams, co-founder of the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus. Representative Karen Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, also took part, as did a staff member for Representative Bobby Scott, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

“HBCUs graduate an outsized proportion of African-American college graduates and an outsized proportion of low-income, first generation college students. In order to ensure HBCUs continue their mission, they need assistance in emergencies such as this,” Adams said in written responses to questions.

She said she and other lawmakers have heard from “the entire HBCU community” about how their institutions have been affected by the pandemic, and gotten their input on the colleges' funding needs.

“We are currently working toward a package that will include many, if not all, of those recommendations,” she wrote. “Our offices and House leadership are currently engaged in working on another stimulus package to address some of the worst impacts of the pandemic. We are confident that HBCUs will find additional support in that package.”

Congress passed bipartisan legislation last December that made permanent $255 million in annual STEM funding for minority-serving colleges, including roughly $85 million specifically allocated to HBCUs.While the legislation, called the FUTURE Act, was widely praised by leaders and supporters of the colleges, advocates for more funding are now concerned about the more immediate future.

Lodriguez V. Murray, senior vice president for public policy and government affairs at the United Negro College Fund, said HBCU leaders and supporters of their institutions were encouraged by the response of Adams and other lawmakers.

“It is clear to our community -- especially HBCUs, but MSIs overall -- that there is significant interest on the Hill concerning our effort,” he said. “Representative Adams, Representative Bass and Representative Scott all seem interested in the unique needs and abilities of HBCUs and how this pandemic impacts them.”

Murray said a large group of college presidents took part in the conference call and offered firsthand accounts of what is taking place on the ground at their individual institutions as college and university administrators across the country race to turn campuses into online or remote institutions to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Many HBCUs are heavily financially dependent on student enrollment and have modest endowments. They don't get the same level of philanthropic support from rich donors that predominately white institutions routinely receive. Their ability to quickly transition from in-person to remote or online instruction is limited and hampered by financial costs, technological capabilities and other challenges.

What’s more, the students that attend these institutions are largely reliant on financial aid. Some cannot afford to leave the campuses and travel home to take classes remotely, and others have nowhere else to go and rely on campus housing and meal plans. Others won’t be able to participate in online classes because they don’t have computers or reliable internet access at home. Some may not be able to afford to return to the college if, and when, the campuses return to normal operations.

“HBCUs are unique institutions.They operate closer to the margins.” Murray said. "Situations outside of our control -- natural disasters, hurricanes and now the coronavirus pandemic -- tend to hurt us more than other institutions.

“Add to that the fact that students on some of these campuses will not be able to come back and that these institutions may have to forfeit funds from room and board. That will be disastrous for HBCUs,” he said. “One institution that reached out to us said it could be impacted by $2 to $4 million, and this is an institution that does not have $2 to $4 million to spare.”

Murray added that while distance learning options was a nice offering to have in the past, it was not always a priority of the institutions.

“Many HBCUs and a lot of MSIs did not have this distance learning technology,” he said. “For that reason, we knew that when students come back from spring break, it was going to be important for the institutions to have the resources to get them their education.”

David K. Sheppard, senior vice president, general counsel and chief of staff at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, wrote in a note to congressional offices that the public institutions that TMCF represents "have been forced to implement a hybrid approach, temporarily cancelling classes and/or extending spring break to give them additional time to implement remote learning programs, while simultaneously having to leave campus open and accessible to students facing greater socio-economic challenges, attempting to manage the needs of students returning from study abroad programs who have self-quarantined in residence halls and redoubling their efforts to keep their larger campus communities safe in an environment where schools have a heightened duty to their various on-campus constituencies and greater exposure to potential liability in the face of an ongoing health emergency.

He said trying to meet all these responsibilities "places a heightened strain" on institutions that “lack the supplementary resources necessary to defray the additional costs that they have had to incur to adjust to this very fluid situation.”

There’s a sense in higher ed circles that despite the urgency of the moment, things will eventually return to normal and college campuses will revert to traditional spaces brimming with students and activity, where instruction is provided in physical instead of virtual classrooms and face-to-face interactions between professors and students are the norm again. No such guarantees exist for black colleges and universities. The leaders of those institutions believe the coronavirus crisis poses a very real existential threat; many of them worry that some colleges may end up permanently closing at a time when the long-term survival of HBCUs is a source of concern.

"Hopefully the funding is made available before these institutions close out their fiscal year, because if not, that would be catastrophic and end up hurting them in such a way that they can’t open in the fall," Murray said. He noted that colleges with troubled financial status risk loosing their accreditation or being put on probation, further hurting their future viability.

 "We’re hoping that the goodwill that has been expressed to us over the last two years via bipartisan compromise in Congress is extended to us again."

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Roundup: Recession, guidelines and debt

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 03/18/2020 - 00:00

Colleges and universities are starting to prepare beyond the end of March as the novel coronavirus continues to spread.

The coronavirus may not reach its peak for eight weeks. It may return in August or September. In response, many institutions are moving classes online, and some are sending students home and shutting down campuses altogether.

To help keep you informed as this situation unfolds, here's a roundup of the latest news developments on how the coronavirus is impacting higher education.

Guidelines and Policy Changes

The Department of Veterans Affairs could get discretion to not reduce GI Bill benefits for student veterans who attend colleges that shut down or are going online due to the coronavirus, thanks to a bill passed in the Senate Monday. Its fate in the House is unclear.

The U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines to ensure internet accessibility for students with disabilities. The department's Office for Civil Rights issued a factsheet and held a webinar to remind leaders about their responsibilities to prevent discrimination.

The executive committee of the University of Missouri Board of Curators voted Monday to give Mun Choi, the system's president, temporary authority to take any appropriate measures to address the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus. The California Community Colleges Board of Governors voted Monday to do the same for Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the system.

So far, Choi has used his authority to approve a policy to allow eligible employees who cannot telework to use up to 30 days of accrued sick or vacation leave to care for immediate family members due to school and daycare closures.

Finances and Free Offers

S&P Global declared that the global economy is now in a recession as a result of economic pressures from the coronavirus and the measures taken to stifle its spread.

Senate Democrats are again proposing deferment of student loan payments for six months. The Senate's coronavirus stimulus package would cost at least $750 billion and also allow people to defer mortgage loan payments.

New York's attorney general is freezing state debt collection for those with medical and student loans for the next 30 days. About 41,000 cases involving student debt would qualify for this relief, according to the attorney general's office. The total amount of debt that freezes was not readily available on Tuesday.

Publishers and ed-tech companies continue to offer free services for students and institutions affected by the coronavirus. Cambridge University Press announced it would provide 700 textbooks free to all through May. Cambridge Core customers can request free access to a reference works collection, as well.

RedShelf is providing free access to ebooks for students for the rest of the academic term. University of the People is also making its accredited courses available to all students to take for credit at their institutions. The Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to also take steps to make broadband internet more affordable and accessible for students during this time.

Cancellations and Changes

Several colleges have already announced they are canceling commencement ceremonies, including Virginia's entire system of community colleges, the University of Michigan, Howard University, Kansas State University, Wentworth Institute of Technology and Kellogg Community College. Oakley has also directed community colleges in California to cancel or move online their commencements.

The College Board and ACT are canceling and rescheduling upcoming tests. Those slated for June are still on.

A few colleges have backtracked earlier decisions on how to handle the coronavirus. Liberty University is moving most classes online after Virginia's governor banned gatherings of 100 people or more. The Los Angeles Community College District is suspending classes until March 29 to give people more time to prepare for a pivot to online.

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Canada adjusts to huge movement of students, online shift

The PIE News - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 15:52

In response to the growing COVID-19 epidemic, Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau has announced the country will be closing its borders to non-citizens and those without permanent resident status starting on March 18. The announcement is expected to impact a large number of international students, many of whom are in Canada and now considering travelling to return home.

Canada is the world’s third-leading destination of international students, with 642,000 in 2019. Some 56% come from India and China.

Stakeholders explained that many international students, planning to return home for a summer break anyway, may now consider leaving early, not just because of the travel ban but also because institutions were making all courses accessible online.

“Our priority now is international students on campus”

Speaking from self-isolation in Ottawa, Trudeau pointed out that the government was acting on the advice of public health officials in its new travel rules.

“It is a significant step. It is a step that we take in exceptional circumstances, but it is the right step,” Trudeau explained. Canadians abroad are also being urged to return home and a loan program established to help this happen.

As a result of the measures, international offices in Canada are faced with “unprecedented daily changes and challenges”, director of the internationalisation office at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Sonja Knutson, told The PIE News.

“The FAQ’s that we wrote on Friday no longer applied as of Monday,” she said.

“Our priority now is international students on campus – while international students are welcome to stay in Canada, most are worried – they don’t know whether they should return home immediately and finish their terms by distance, or whether they should stay.”

Knutson said the biggest unknown is whether students can gain re-entry to Canada come September.

“Those that are considering staying are asking how they will afford to stay here over the summer as most were planning to work and many workplaces are reducing staffing.

“We can’t give blanket advice – situations are case-by-case, taking in study permit expiry, health insurance, and status of the home country; some have closed borders already,” she added.

“We have sent messages to our students abroad ensuring they are making their way home – Memorial had already taken that step on March 15, but now the federal government has also stated that all Canadians and permanent resident are urged to return.”

At Trent University, Cath D’Amico, director, international, told The PIE, that there was not necessarily a level of panic among students – a number of whom had seen an early coronavirus curve in Asia – but that reassurance about their decisions and the legitimacy of their study permit were paramount.

[Students] needed those kinds of reassurances that their study, right now, is still legitimate, even though it’s transitioned to an online delivery, and that their future studies would not be compromised because of the switch,” she related.

But some educators have taken to social media to voice their concerns over the impact the measures will have on international students.

One major problem with the govt announcement. In banning boarding/entry to all non-residents (except Americans), no exception has been made for visa students who are abroad as part of Cdn univ programs and who were encouraged by universities to return. Completely unacceptable.

— Craig Scott (@CraigScottCA) March 16, 2020

Vice president partnerships at Camosun College in British Columbia, Geoff Wilmshurst, told The PIE that the institution is focused on assisting the return of its study abroad students all of whom are in Europe this semester.

“We have offered additional monies to assist them to book a flight home and offering other supports.

“This, of course, will impact our spring and summer semesters. Our efforts are focussed on retaining international students that are currently at the college and those that are in-country and looking for study opportunities,” Wilmshurst added.

Gabriela Facchini, manager of International Business Development and Partnerships (Latin America, Europe, Turkey, Korea and Japan) at Sheridan College in Ontario said that her institution’s number-one priority right now is to “do our part in helping our community, our province and Canada to slow down the curve of infection of COVID-19”.

“Sheridan and I believe most, if not all, public institutions have closed this week to allow faculty the time to adjust the curriculum to go online for the rest of the semester,” she told The PIE, adding that other staff will work from home as March 18, and that a webpage has been set up to help the community stay informed.

Facchini said that the closing of Canadian borders means that May semester new students may not be able to start their programs at Sheridan.

“To that effect, we are allowing students to defer their start dates. Also, Sheridan will issue a full refund of fees if students are not able to travel to Canada [and] deferrals of fees and enrollment to January 2021 may be requested and approved where possible.”

“As the situation is so fluid, it is hard to predict what will happen in the weeks ahead”

Additionally, Facchini told The PIE that some students have requested to go home for the remainder of the semester.

“We are uncertain right now if this would have any effect on their eligibility for Post-Graduate Work Permits once students graduate,” she added, saying that it also may be difficult for students to return to Canada should the situation changes and in-person classes were to resume.

“As the situation is so fluid, it is hard to predict what will happen in the weeks ahead.”

Knutson at Memorial agreed: “it is an unprecedented time for us, we are all leaning on lessons learned from previous crises but this current crisis goes far beyond what we have previously experienced.”

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Chronicle of Higher Education: University Labs Head to the Front Lines of Coronavirus Containment

As the U.S. health-care system has struggled to provide enough Covid-19 tests to fully track infections, some academic labs have designed their own.

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Chronicle of Higher Education: How Far Will Higher Ed’s Culture Wars Go? South Dakota Is Running Previews

A debacle over “Hawaiian Day” gave conservative lawmakers leverage to pass a politically charged “intellectual-diversity bill.” They were just getting started.

Coronavirus: Ed tech offers free services

The PIE News - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 09:48

A number of ed tech companies around the world – and the country of Estonia – are offering free services to universities, schools and students to limit the disruption to learning caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Challenges to the international education sector have been unprecedented, with travel bans and school and university closures

Now, edtech companies such as iTeach.world, RAFTR, Aula and Intergreat are offering free remote teaching tools or online platforms to help universities and schools connect with their students. 

And in Estonia – already a digital-embracing nation where e-residency is available – the Ministry of Education & Research announced the country is “humbled to share all of its digital education tools to support other countries’ education systems during the COVID-19 crisis”.

“This is waking people up and making them modernise their approach to instruction”

Remote learning has been adopted as a strategy by institutions as they cope with sweeping restrictions put in place by governments who are trying to tackle the virus. 

“We’re here to help in any way we can,” said Jean-Pierre Guittard, CEO and founder of iTeach.world, an ed tech company that offers a modern virtual learning environment to students and teachers. 

“During this transition, we’ll be doing our best to support teachers and schools and to continue to support them with a free online tool.

“I know a lot of other ed tech companies are opening their tools, whether it is curriculum books or online tools that students can use. Everybody’s trying to do their best to pitch in and help out as best they can,” he told The PIE News

The demand for the company’s virtual classroom is high and according to Guittard, iTeach.world has had a 4000% increase in usage over the past two weeks. 

Demand is also being satisfied by companies like Silicon Valley-based higher ed tech company Raftr which is offering its messaging and notifications platform to colleges and universities free of charge through the end of the academic year. 

Raftr’s app is designed to facilitate instant and direct communication between college administrations and their students in a mobile-first platform, including the ability to send direct messages instantly to students’ mobile devices. 

“Raftr can provide universities immediate access to communicate with their students, faculty, staff, and even parents, anywhere in the world,” said Raftr founder and CEO Sue Decker.

Extract of the announcement from Estonia

“It is very fast to implement and designed for interactive, flexible and coordinated communication on a stand-alone basis or to supplement email communication.”

This push of philanthropic activity is a global phenomenon. InterGreat Education Group, a UK-based education agent, is providing free online lessons to Chinese families that want their children taught in English, with an international style of curriculum.

Yinghui Gilbert, director of international partnerships at IEG, told The PIE that the company had developed a free online program which is currently only available in China.

The program is aimed at providing home-based learning for school-aged children between 6 and 16 years of age.

“When we heard the announcement from the Ministry of Education in China, IEG realised that the knock-on effects for this would be huge if no thought-through alternative provision was available for the students in the vacuum,” she said. 

“IEG realised that the knock-on effects would be huge if no thought-through alternative provision was available”

The challenges of shifting from a face-to-face model to teaching online have been noted by some organisations.

In fact, Aula’s CEO noted, “We have prepared a (very brief!) quick-start guide to get started with teaching remotely on Aula” as he announced the social learning platform would offer free unlimited licences.

The Republic of Estonia’s Ministry of Education and Research is offering a range of digital education solutions for free to help educators make the jump into remote teaching. 

Guittard explained that as more people move online, there may also be difficulties with internet access given volume demands.

“The biggest challenge I’m seeing for some students is internet bandwidth. So everybody is being put online but in some countries and some areas, the internet just isn’t what it should be for this type of thing. This is affecting some students and teacher’s experience,” he told The PIE. 

Despite these issues, Guittard said he believes the coronavirus outbreak will show people the importance and value of remote learning. 

“I think what is going to change here is that schools are being forced to make the change that they need to make because in the background there’s been this huge market shift where people have realised that we have these communication tools… This is waking people up and making them modernise their approach to instruction.”

The post Coronavirus: Ed tech offers free services appeared first on The PIE News.

Chronicle of Higher Education: When Emergency Strikes: Lessons From Campus Closures

Most colleges have emergency plans for hurricanes, floods, and other emergencies, but there’s never been a pandemic shutting down so many of the nation’s colleges.

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COVID-19: US universities scramble to arrange campus closures

The PIE News - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 07:56

Universities across the US have announced plans to close their campuses, scale back operations and send as many students as possible home in the wake of increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the country. The latest count by the CDC lists the number of confirmed cases at 3,487.

Harvard University, which currently has two confirmed community members with the coronavirus, was among the earliest to announce its campus would be closing, asking all students to move out of residences by 5pm on March 15.

“Even if I wanted to fly there are just no flights anymore”

Those who believed themselves to be in circumstances that would not allow them to return home were able to petition for the right to stay.

Some students criticised the university’s decision as not giving them enough time to organise moving out, storage, shipping and transport. Those not wishing to return home and unable to stay on campus have had to find alternative accommodation.

“It was very unexpected, but I knew I wasn’t going to be affected by it, just because I wasn’t planning on going back to Italy anyway,” international student Eugene Donati told The Harvard Crimson.

“But now even if I wanted to fly there are just no flights anymore. So if I go, it wouldn’t be possible to come back.”

With airlines operating a reduced number of flights on many routes and many people trying to return to Europe, other students reported having to book flights to neighbouring countries and then find overland routes home.

Harvard is by no means the only university that has decided to close its campus due to COVID-19.

MIT, Princeton and Stanford have all also asked undergraduates to return home. Universities are also trying to offer students financial support for their transport costs.

At Princeton, deputy university spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss told The PIE that it had laid out criteria for students who wish to remain on campus that gave priority to certain categories of students, such as those who need to do lab research.

For international students specifically, it included those who are subject to travel restrictions, come from countries with warning levels 2 and 3 and USDOS levels 3 and 4 for COVID-19 or whose home is in “an area with extremely limited internet connectivity”.

“We won’t be able to access Google. We won’t be able to access Gmail”

“The university will continue to support each and every one of our students — both international and domestic — who for one reason or another cannot return home and must remain on campus,” he added.

In addition to making travel arrangements, international students are now also waiting for accommodation refunds and are worried about how the transition to online teaching will affect their academic performance.

“We won’t be able to access Google. We won’t be able to access Gmail,” Jacob Chang, vice president of Ohio State University’s International Student Council, told local press regarding trying to study from China.

“Our US phone number won’t work, so there’s a chance we won’t be able to get Duo Mobile [the service used to log into Ohio State accounts].”

Other students have voiced concerns online that having to attend live lectures will mean studying in the early hours of the morning in their time zone, and that censorship that will prevent them from accessing certain topics. However, universities are trying to address these concerns.

We realise that some of students’ coursework will be significantly hampered by the online teaching format, and the university is helping their instructors accommodate this shift in the best possible way,” explained Hotchkiss at Princeton.

“The office of the dean of the college is studying a variety of strategies that might alleviate the stress for students and faculty, including P/D/F grading options for the whole semester; re-weighting midterm examinations; and other policy adjustments.”

However, while some universities are in a mad rush to shut down as soon as possible, others have taken a different approach.

“Home is not necessarily a better option for students, as they may have to get on an plane or have vulnerable groups [there]”

“Home is not necessarily a better option for students, as they may have to get on a plane or they may have vulnerable groups – older parents grandparents – in the home,” explained UC Berkeley regarding its decision not to close its campus, although on Monday it did say it was “rapidly moving toward a ‘maintenance-only’ mode of physical operation of the campus”, meaning this could soon change.

While UC Berkeley, Arizona State, the University of Utah and others have so far decided to keep campuses open, classes have nevertheless been taken online and events and gatherings have been cancelled.

Over the last few days, several universities have reported new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in their communities.

The post COVID-19: US universities scramble to arrange campus closures appeared first on The PIE News.

human​roads raises €1.5m to boost its HE focus

The PIE News - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 03:59

France-based edtech specialists humanroads has just completed its first fundraising round for a total of €1.5 million, which will allow it to significantly accelerate its technological and business deployment among higher and vocational education and training organisations around the world.

A pioneer in applying innovative strategies to deliver content required by international education leaders, lifelong learners, and policymakers, the platform currently offers two digital solutions ­­– humanroads Analytics and the Career GPS – capable of visualising and analysing millions of educational and professional data points.

“[Students and alumni] will be able to access new tools for visualising and analysing educational paths”

humanroads Analytics is a business intelligence tool for institutional leaders and their teams focused on curricular design and employability, while the Career GPS is designed for both students and working people to enable individuals in training, in employment, or in job searches.

Benoît Bonte, president of humanroads said the financial support will allow humanroads to support not only schools and university administrators but also students and alumni.

“In real-time [students and alumni] will be able to access new tools for visualising and analysing educational and professional paths,” said Bonte.

“Institutions will also be able to offer their students a self-paced and discrete opportunity of using this data to clarify the choices available to them as they contemplate further education and/or their careers.”

Although humanroads currently equips some 60 private and public institutions of HE such as NEOMA Business School and more than half of the Polytech Network in France, it is aiming to rapidly multiply its impact in this sector.

The Région Sud Investissement fund (advised by Turenne Groupe), CAAP Création, a subsidiary of Crédit Agricole Alpes Provence, Alumni Business Angels and a group of Parisian business angels have pledged their support to advance humanroads’ ambitions.

The post human​roads raises €1.5m to boost its HE focus appeared first on The PIE News.

75% of staff cannot detect fake certificate

The PIE News - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 02:58

Only one in four university admissions staff feel confident spotting fake qualification documents without assistance, a survey by the UK’s national qualifications agency UK NARIC has revealed, as the organisation pledges to ramp up efforts to identify fraudulent certificates.

Responses from 17 countries showed that institutions spend varying amounts of effort verifying documents.

While 62% said they conduct their own verifications direct with awarding institutions, 14% of institutions said that, in general, they “don’t verify overseas qualification documents at all”.

Other respondents said they verify documents only in cases which raise concern or doubt.

“One of the interesting things in the survey is that it shows a range of approaches to qualification checking in the institutions,” Steve Miller, head of Communications and Global Partnerships for UK NARIC told The PIE News.

“Some institutions reduce the risk by not accepting applications from high-risk countries”

The survey found that some institutions rely on examining hard-copy qualification documents, while others use online verification methods.

“Some admissions teams seem to be confident about checking and verifying qualifications themselves and are building that into their processes. But some staff are maybe not so sure that they can spot a fake certificate with certainty,” Miller continued.

According to UK NARIC, verifying international qualifications and dealing with fake certificates and fraudulent applications is a growing problem the organisation is working to counteract.

“We have an online certificate bank, with thousands of scanned images of certificates and transcripts, that can be used to compare and check applicants’ documents. We also offer training on fraud detection,” Miller added.

In 2017, UK NARIC launched an initiative to combat fraud in academic credentials via an agreement with The DataFlow Group.

Additionally, its Qualification Checked At Source verification service gives a “definitive confirmation that a qualification is genuine”.

UK NARIC is also concerned that verification worries mean that international students from some countries are missing out on study places.

“Some institutions reduce the risk by not accepting applications from high-risk countries. That is one way to reduce the risks of this. But you are limiting your markets if you take that approach,” Miller said.

He said that by putting greater focus on verification, institutions may be able to “open up to applications from those markets, while still controlling and managing the risk”.

“Diversifying your markets is an important factor at the moment. Better approaches to verification can help to support a diversification strategy,” Miller added.

The post 75% of staff cannot detect fake certificate appeared first on The PIE News.

Students organize their own aid networks as campuses close for virus

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 00:00

Last Thursday night, Noah French, a sophomore studying aerospace engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, couldn't sleep. The university had announced that day that operations were suspended to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

"I was really anxious that whole day," he said. "Right now students don't know what the future holds. They don't know how they're going to be able to pay their rent, pay their utilities."

French had seen a spreadsheet made by students at Middlebury College circulating on Twitter. Middlebury had encouraged students early last week to leave the campus. The sheet was a way to coordinate "mutual aid," where students in need could post what would help them out and others who had money, storage space or free housing to offer could post their contact information.

The Middlebury sheet was full of entries.

"It just made me cry seeing it, because that showed to me that this was very real," French said.

That night he created a similar Google spreadsheet for UT Austin students to post the things they need or things they could help with.

Students at over a dozen universities have started similar spreadsheets, Facebook groups and resource documents. As more campuses close across the county, these resources continue to grow.

At the University of Virginia, the Student Council has led the effort. The council is currently matching donors to those in need and has raised over $10,000 in less than five days, said Isabella Liu, chair of the representative body.

"Student Council felt that it was very important for us to spring into action quickly and soften the blow of this move for the most vulnerable and marginalized in the UVA community," Liu said.

While some of the networks allow anyone to peruse the posts, some have moderators that work to connect people.

That's the case at the University of Pittsburgh, which encouraged students to leave last week as well. A few students started a Google form people could fill out if they needed housing, transportation or storage space. The student organizers have been individually matching those in need with people who have volunteered to help.

Though the Pitt form started with about six student organizers, now about 20 to 30 people are helping out, said Neerja Garikipati, one of the students behind the original form.

"There's a lot of fear and uncertainty and just general panic and worry about what's going to happen next," she said. "Having a presence that has resources and you know you can rely upon to help you if you need it has been really good."

Low-income students who have been asked to move out of residence halls can struggle with the costs of moving, storage and transportation and may not have parents who can help or come get them. Some might be dealing with lost wages as more businesses and campuses are forced to shut down. Many universities have said they will defray costs for students, but some level of need is still apparent.

The networks operate in different ways. At Wesleyan University, Jessi Russell decided to specify that the spreadsheet is for first-generation and low-income students. Students looking for assistance are asked to rank their level of need so that those in the worst situations can be prioritized with the most money.

"This is where we expect students to be as honest as possible," they said. "Need is high at this time, and we're well aware of that."

The need scale runs from 1 to 5, with 5 being severe need. Students are not asked to prove their level of need in this time of chaos, Russell said.

The Wesleyan sheet, similarly to other mutual aid networks, has places for people to volunteer housing or transport, but the plan is really centered around monetary donations. The GoFundMe account associated with the page raised over $45,000 in about a day. The goal is $950,000 to provide for over 200 high-need students in the short and long term. The funds will be transferred into an independent bank account and then distributed to first-generation, low-income students by check, Russell said.

"People have felt comfortable and I have felt honored in the way they've shared their stories," they said. "The hope that it's given people is big."

Garikipati, at Pitt, said the majority of offers she's seen have been for storage space. She said she understands that offering to house people you don't know might be hard for a lot of people, especially if you have roommates and especially with social distancing precautions from the government.

French, at UT Austin, said he was initially a little disappointed that people seemed incredibly eager to share his mutual aid sheet but less inclined to post on it. The university hasn't closed residence halls yet, which could be one factor, but also he said that sometimes a big university can feel isolating to people.

"As large as our university is, there is a lot of isolation and a lot of fear about how an individual might play a role in the community," he said. "There's a lot of fear about how to help others because I think we're taught to be closed off and stay in our comfort zones."

But he said he hopes more people are inspired to give and be honest about what they need.

"There's a lot of shame and guilt harbored in those people who know that they need something but have been told their whole life not to ask for it," French said. "As long as it was able to help one person, it was worth it."

Editorial Tags: CoronavirusFinancial impactsImage Source: Istockphoto.com/SDI ProductionsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0

Trump promised to waive student loan interest, but it's unclear if borrowers will see any immediate relief

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 00:00

Three days after President Trump announced he is waiving the interest on federal student loans “to help students and their families” during the coronavirus crisis, the Education Department hasn’t released any details about the plan, leaving unanswered questions about whether borrowers’ monthly payments will actually go down and if the president even has the authority to make such a decision.

While waiving interest might help borrowers in the long term, it won't do much to help those who’ve lost their jobs during the crisis if they still have to pay the same amount every month, said Ben Miller, vice president for postsecondary education at the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress.

Miller noted that if borrowers request forbearance, interest would normally still accrue on their unsubsidized loans. So they’d benefit if they do not have to pay the interest, either, he said. However, their monthly payments would only go down if the loan servicers recalculate borrowers' payment amounts, said Miller and other experts such as Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

What‘s unclear, Draeger said, is if servicers will be told under Trump’s order to automatically recalculate the loan payments, or even if borrowers will be able to ask that their payments be lowered. But he and other policy experts said they’ve heard rumors that the monthly amount due won’t automatically be lowered.

Education Department spokeswoman Angela Morabito reiterated on Monday what she’s said since Trump made the surprise announcement Friday while declaring a national coronavirus emergency.

"We are finalizing the details and will share them as soon as they are available," she said.

Scott Buchanan, president of the Student Loan Servicing Alliance, said Monday that it's his understanding that the intent of Trump's order is to lower interest, not monthly payment amounts. He said the group is discussing how to avoid any unintended consequences in implementing the policy.

“They’re sort of building the airplane while it’s in the air,” Draeger said.

Buchanan said borrowers facing financial problems because of the crisis have options to lower their monthly payments, including seeking hardship deferments, and those on income-driven repayment plans can get adjustments if their wages go down. But others, like Miller, say not all borrowers in need will qualify for those options, and they do not work for everybody.

Miller said the administration should instead simply pause requiring payments or automatically recalculate the debt so borrowers will have extra money to weather the storm -- “whichever one creates the least confusion and annoyance. There’s going to be a lot of annoyance that ‘my payment amount hasn’t changed.’”

The lack of detail thus far has drawn criticism.

“Although more (really, any) details are expected to come over the next few days, this measure can reliably be dismissed as a PR stunt and nothing that will provide any economic stimulus or relief,” Thomas Wade, director of financial services policy at the center-right think tank American Action Forum, wrote in a blog post on Monday.

Based on what’s been announced, “an interest waiver doesn't go far enough to help borrowers since it doesn't really impact their monthly payments,” said Michele Streeter, an external affairs and policy analyst at the Institute for College Access and Success. “We don't have details from ED on how this is going to be implemented and how it's going to be communicated to borrowers,” she said in an email.

Draeger said the administration may have been thinking, “what can we do in the immediate future, [that doesn't require a change in processes] and is fast and easy.”

But since Friday, as the coronavirus crisis worsened and federal health authorities added new travel and other restrictions, Draeger said, “the whole world might have changed, and the calculus might have changed for how to implement the interest waiver.”

There are more considerations if monthly payments are reduced, he said. Some borrowers may want to keep paying more. And when the required monthly payments eventually go back up, how will the administration protect borrowers from the blow?

Several commentators, like Wade, questioned if Trump even has the authority to waive the interest on direct loans. Though Trump said his emergency powers under a state of emergency allowed him to act, Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research for Savingforcollege.com, wrote in Forbes that such a move would violate the Higher Education Act.

The legal point could be moot, Draeger said, because no one is likely to challenge in court a move designed to help student loan borrowers weather an emergency. But Mike Saunders, director of military and consumer policy for Veterans Education Success, said Education Department lawyers may feel bound by law to not allow interest to be waived. And Morabito, the department’s spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond when asked if the department was still trying to determine if the president has the authority to waive the interest.

Draeger, meanwhile, said a next step should be ensuring that delinquent borrowers are not put in default status during the crisis.

“If your life is being disrupted, student loans might not be at the top of your list, like, food, gas or safety,” he said.

Consumer groups, meanwhile, continued to say that borrowers need more help than the uncertainty over whether waiving interest will lower their monthly payments.

“If they do not have that authority, then we call on the White House to work with Congress to not only waive interest, but to decrease the overall burden of student loan debt until this crisis is over,” said Saunders, who is calling for student debt to be canceled during the crisis.

Ashley Harrington, senior policy counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending, also called for the federal government to forgive at least $10,000 of each borrower’s loans, as well as to take other steps such as stopping wage garnishments during the crisis.

“When we’re bailing out industries and companies, there’s much more we can do to help borrowers and consumers,” she said.

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, as part of a broader coronavirus economic stimulus proposal introduced March  11, called for giving payment forbearance for six months on federally insured or guaranteed mortgages and federal student loans.

House Democrats on Friday night formally introduced a bill identical to one Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate's health and education committee, proposed earlier in the day, which would provide a temporary exemption for students from repaying Pell Grants or student loans if their campus closes or if their academic terms are disrupted.

Under current law, Pell Grant recipients would have to return a portion of their grants to the federal government if they withdraw from school, or in this case, if their institution closes.

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Biden and Sanders differ in approaches to administrative actions

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 00:00

In the coming weeks or days, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is expected to set off a firestorm of controversy by issuing a new rule to change how the nation’s colleges and universities deal with allegations of sexual assault and harassment on campuses.

Most controversially, DeVos is expected to require that the accused be able to cross-examine their accusers in a live hearing, a move opponents say would discourage victims from coming forward.

This would come after DeVos, on her own and without the consent of Congress, undid an Obama administration rule that made it easier for students to get their student debt forgiven if they were defrauded by a for-profit college. Using her administrative powers, DeVos also repealed Obama’s gainful-employment rule, which had threatened for-profits with the loss of federal funds if not enough of their graduates were able to pay off their student loans.

The pendulum could swing the other way if Democrats take the White House. Thus far, attention to Joe Biden's and Bernie Sanders’s differences on higher education policy has focused on their big-picture proposals that would require the approval of Congress, like to what extent the nation should make college free or cancel the more than $1.5 trillion in U.S. student loan debt.

(Sanders would make all public colleges and universities free and eliminate all student debt. Biden would only make public community colleges free and target debt relief to lower-paid borrowers.)

But as DeVos’s actions have shown, higher education policy experts say also significant is how the Education Department under a Biden or Sanders administration would wield power to enact policies on its own.

DeVos, like one of her counterparts during the Obama administration, Arne Duncan, illustrates the importance of the “ideology of the education secretary,” said Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, which represents for-profits.

The question is particularly important “especially when Congress is in inaction,” said Wesley Whistle, senior education adviser for policy and strategy at the left-of-center think tank New America.

Return to Obama Policies

What Biden would do is clearer, education experts said. His higher education plan goes into far more detail than the one released by Sanders, about specific policies as well as how he’d use administrative power. Sanders’s plan, in fact, says nothing about how he’d deal with controversial issues involving for-profits.

Take, for example, the Obama administration’s borrower-defense rule and its approach to students who experience situations like the collapse of Corinthian Colleges. The for-profit college chain was found by the department to have inflated its job-placement rates to attract students -- even paying companies to hire students for a couple of days and subsequently reporting that those students found a job.

The Obama administration made it easier for defrauded students to have their federal loans forgiven. But DeVos replaced it with her own rule, adding more legal obstacles for the borrowers to get relief. Biden said in his plan that he'd bring back Obama's old rule.

“My sense is that a Biden administration would look very similar to the Obama administration in terms of the higher education regulatory agenda,” said Mark Huelsman, associate director of policy and research at Demos, a liberal think tank (and an occasional columnist for Inside Higher Ed).

Further, Biden has said he’d “require for-profits to first prove their value to the U.S. Department of Education before gaining eligibility for federal aid.”

The question is whether Biden would also require nonprofit institutions to also “prove their value,” Gunderson said. “That could be really good or really bad,” he said, depending on the details.

Gunderson’s group has said it does not oppose ineffective for-profits being held accountable, as long as other institutions are held to the same standard. He applauded, for example, DeVos’s repeal last July of Obama’s gainful-employment rule, which had mainly targeted for-profits.

But Whistle said Biden’s proposal is likely bad news for the for-profit sector. “It sounds like a hint at restoring gainful employment, or maybe he has a different idea,” he said.

Biden, in his higher education plan, appears to be ready to take aim at for-profits.

“These for-profit programs are often predatory -- devoted to high-pressure and misleading recruiting practices and charging higher costs for lower quality education that leaves graduates with mountains of debt and without good job opportunities,” he said in his plan, which also called for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to be more aggressive in going after private lenders if they “mislead students about their options and do not provide an affordable payment plan when they’re facing financial hardship.”

“CFPB was pretty aggressive on student loans, but it’s been severely weakened during the Trump administration,” said Michael Dannenberg, director of strategic initiatives for policy at Education Reform Now!

Sanders’s Plan Less Clear

Sanders, on the other hand, has been criticized for not mentioning for-profits in his higher education plan.

“It’s just a big question mark,” Whistle said. “We just don’t know because he hasn’t made it a priority in his messaging. He might be thinking about it, but I think not including it in his plan is a mistake.”

But others like, Kyle Southern, director of higher education policy and advocacy for the Young Invincibles, an advocacy group, see the lack of detail as less of a big deal.

“All this points more to a matter of style,” he said. “Sanders’s rhetoric has been more macro level. Biden is more on the wonky and detail side.”

And despite for-profits escaping mention in Sanders's plan, the idea of a Sanders presidency still makes Gunderson nervous.

“Bernie Sanders pretty much believes the [for-profit] sector should not even exist,” he said.

But to Tamara Hiler, education policy director for the center-left think tank Third Way, the difference in approaches between Sanders and Biden is significant and suggests Biden's policies might be less likely to be tied up by legal challenges.

“Sanders’s plan is incredibly expensive and highly unrealistic in today’s Congress or the next. It’s going to be really hard for Republicans to engage in those conversations. Biden has a lot of bipartisan ideas. He has a more nuanced approach,” she said.

To Demos’s Huelsman, though, Sanders does have a plan to limit for-profits -- by funding their public competitors. Sanders’s plan calls for creating a $48 billion federal matching grant program to eliminate tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities, tribal colleges, community colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeship programs.

“Part of the theory of change around the Sanders plan is that by funding robust public institutions, unsavory for-profit colleges will have less room to operate,” Huelsman said.

Despite the lack of detail in his plan, Huelsman said Sanders likely would also support the restoration of Obama-era policies, like the gainful-employment rule. Huelsman noted that Sanders was among a group of six Democratic senators who wrote the Obama administration calling for the rule’s creation.

Sanders's campaign, for its part, wouldn’t detail in emails what administrative steps he’d take. Instead the campaign pointed to his record -- including the list of 104 written questions he gave DeVos during her January 2017 confirmation hearings, in which he expressed support for the gainful-employment and borrower-defense rules.

“For-profit colleges enroll only 10 percent of all students but account for nearly 30 percent of student loan borrowers, and 35 percent of all defaults,” he wrote in one question. “One of the protections put in place is the gainful employment rule … If confirmed, do you plan on keeping this regulation in place or rolling it back to enrich your billionaire friends?”

He also noted that Grand Rapids, Mich., where DeVos earned her bachelor’s degree at Calvin College, was home to a branch of the defunct Corinthian Colleges. “Do you believe that [Corinthian’s] former students should pay for what the industry admits were ‘mistakes?’”

Sanders also appears likely to want a more aggressive CFPB, signing a letter with 14 other Democratic senators in 2018 that blasted the bureau's then acting director, Mick Mulvaney. The letter came after the CFPB's student loan ombudsman resigned, saying in his resignation letter that under Mulvaney’s leadership, "the bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting."

"Sanders did support those things in the Senate," said Clare McCann, New America's deputy director for federal higher education policy. "It's just not things he's laid out clearly in his plan."

it's unclear if Sanders would follow Senator Elizabeth Warren, who said before dropping out of the Democratic presidential nomination race earlier this month that she’d cancel student debt administratively.

Warren had said she would have used the department’s discretion under the Higher Education Act to wipe away loans, even when borrowers don’t meet the eligibility requirements for specific forgiveness programs.

Sanders’s campaign wouldn’t say if it would take that approach, and Huelsman wasn’t sure.

“On one hand, Sanders is somewhat of a Senate institutionalist, and all signs point to him trying to push tuition-free college and debt cancellation legislatively,” he said. “But I absolutely could see him following Senator Warren’s lead and trying to accomplish debt cancellation through some sort of settlement and compromise authority.”

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Roundup of coronavirus news from March 16

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 00:00

National Federation of the Blind: Don’t Make Online Accessibility an Afterthought

March 16, 6:15 p.m. The National Federation of the Blind is urging schools and colleges not to forget their legal obligation to make learning content accessible to all students as they rush to move courses online in response to the spread of COVID-19.

In a blog post today, Stephanie Flynt, government affairs specialist at the National Federation of the Blind​, wrote that blind students “risk having their ongoing educational needs swept under the rug” as many institutions prepare to cease in-person instruction.

“Over the past two decades, we know the 21st century interactive classroom has dramatically evolved, but we also know the accessibility of instructional materials has continued to be viewed as an afterthought,” Flynt wrote. “The solutions exist, but must be prioritized.”

The National Federation of the Blind has compiled a series of accessibility resources for educators and is monitoring accessibility barriers through an education technology survey. Readers are invited to participate in an #AccessibleNOW Twitter chat on Friday, March 20, at 12 p.m. EST.

-- Lindsay McKenzie

Leader of Calif.'s Two-Year Colleges: Response to Virus to Last Through June

March 16, 5:00 p.m. Eloy Oakley, chancellor of California's community college system, said Monday that the system's response to the coronavirus outbreak likely will last through June, reported Mikhail Zinshteyn, a California-based education reporter.

Oakley was speaking at a hearing. He said the state's two-year colleges should "plan for a second peak of the virus sometime around August or September."

The governing board for the system gave Oakley emergency powers for 180 days. He now can override existing local and state rules governing California's community colleges.

The system, which enrolls roughly 2.1 million students at 115 colleges, last week announced a move to online instruction. Oakley also said the colleges should cancel, postpone or move online all commencement ceremonies that are scheduled for May and June.

-- Paul Fain

Northwestern to Reschedule Gathering of College Presidents From Around the World

March 16, 4:44 p.m. A summit of university presidents from around the globe that had been scheduled for early June has been postponed as COVID-19 spreads.

Dozens of presidents were expected to attend the U7+ Summit at Northwestern University. The gathering was intended to help university leaders “play a leading role in addressing critical global challenges” like climate, inequity, polarization, technological transformation and community engagement.

Postponing the gathering will allow leaders to focus on issues at home, according to a Northwestern news release. The event will be rescheduled, it said.

“We are deeply committed to working across institutional and geographic boundaries to address our greatest global challenges,” Northwestern’s president, Morton Schapiro, said in a statement. “However, the health and safety of our academic and global communities is of paramount importance at this time, necessitating a postponement of the U7+ Summit.”

In addition to Northwestern hosting the event, Columbia University, Georgetown University and the University of California, Berkeley, are listed as co-sponsors. Representatives from more than 50 universities were invited.

-- Rick Seltzer

Colleges Begin Canceling Commencement Ceremonies

March 16, 4:18 p.m. The University of Michigan on Friday became one of the first U.S. institutions to cancel spring commencement ceremonies.

Many other colleges and universities have said they will decide on commencement later. But that may be changing Wednesday, as several colleges have made the call to cancel the events.

Howard University, Kansas State University, Wentworth Institute of Technology and Kellogg Community College were among institutions to announce that commencement was canceled or postponed.

Kellogg, located in Michigan, cited federal guidelines recommending against larger gathering of people.

“We are in unprecedented times and we are taking unprecedented measures as an institution to prevent exposure to the coronavirus that is rapidly spreading in Michigan and around the world,” Adrien Bennings, president of KCC, said in a statement. “We are disappointed that we won’t have the opportunity to celebrate our Bruins’ success by handing them a diploma as they walk across the stage to the applause of their family and friends, but we will find some other way to recognize their accomplishments.”

-- Paul Fain

In Reversal, LA Community College District Suspends All Classes

March 16, 2:15 p.m. The Los Angeles Community College District announced the suspension of all classes, both online and in-person, beginning today and going through March 29.

The governing board for the district, which enrolls roughly 230,000 students, made the decision after initially planning to move to online class delivery after canceling classes for the first two days of this week. The district had said the two-day pause would be used to train faculty members to access and teach in the online platform.

But after an emergency meeting over the weekend, the board instead opted to suspend all classes and in-person services at the colleges until the end of the month.

“There is nothing more important to me and to my board colleagues than the safety of our students, staff and faculty. This was a difficult decision to make, but it was the right one that provides protection and stability during these challenging times,” Andra Hoffman, the board's president, said in statement.

-- Paul Fain

Some International Applications Soaring to University of the People

March 16, 2:04 p.m. The online nonprofit University of the People reports a huge spike in global applications in response to the coronavirus.

“We are seeing an enormous jump in numbers of applications and interest from areas highly affected by the coronavirus, from students whose schools may have shut down or who may be in quarantine themselves,” Shai Reshef, president of the University of the People, said in an emailed statement.

“We are happy to accommodate these students affected by mounting health concerns,” he said.

The university, which is a tuition-free, accredited American university, received 300 applications from students in China during the winter term from October to December 2019. So far this term, which started Jan. 1, the number of applications from China has tripled.

Web traffic from Italy, Japan and South Korea -- all countries badly impacted by the pandemic -- has also doubled in recent months.

-- Lindsay McKenzie

College Board, ACT Reschedule Exams

March 16, 12:19 p.m. The College Board and ACT have rescheduled upcoming exams.

The SAT of May 2 has been canceled. Makeup exams for the March 14 SAT, scheduled for March 28, have also been canceled "in response to the rapidly evolving situation around the coronavirus (COVID-19)."

Students who had been registered to take the SAT on one of those days will receive refunds.

At this point, the next SAT that has not been called off is June 6.

ACT has rescheduled the April 4 exam, moving it to June 13 "in response to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19)." In the next few days, everyone who registered for the exam will receive information about the new date.

The College Board gave the SAT on Saturday, although many test sites were closed.

-- Scott Jaschik​

Census Bureau Shares Information on Counting On-Campus Students Who've Been Sent Home

March 16, 12:12 p.m. The U.S. Census Bureau is addressing some operations that count college students.

College students who live on campus are counted through their colleges or universities as part of a census operation that counts students in university-owned housing and other group quarters like nursing homes, halfway houses and prisons. That could get a little more complicated with so many campuses sending students home.

A little more than half of student housing administrators had been planning to respond to the census in a method that provides the Census Bureau with directory information about students. Another 35 percent had been planning to allow students to self-respond with individual questionnaires.

The Census Bureau is contacting those institutions allowing self-responses to ask if they’d like to change those plans.

Generally, students in colleges that are temporarily closed because of the outbreak will still be counted under the same processes as before.

“Per the Census Bureau’s residence criteria, in most cases students living away from home at school should be counted at school, even if they are temporarily elsewhere due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said a Sunday afternoon news release from the Census Bureau.

In other words, even if students are home on the official census day, which is April 1, they should be counted based on where they live and sleep most of the time. The Census Bureau says it is asking institutions to contact students with reminders about responding.

-- Rick Seltzer

Guidance on International Students and Online Courses

March 15, 10:21 a.m. The Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has published more detailed guidance on how it will offer flexibility in relation to rules that typically restrict international students from counting more than one online course toward the requirement that they maintain a full-time course of study.

The guidance, published Friday, addresses three scenarios: one in which a school closes temporarily without offering online learning instruction, one in which a college temporarily switches to online instruction and the international student remains in the U.S., and one in which a college temporarily switches to online instruction and the international student leaves the country.

In the first case -- in which a college closes -- the Homeland Security Department said institutions should keep international student records active in the federal Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) so long as students intend to resume their course of studies when classes start up again, just as they would for regularly scheduled academic breaks.

For the other two cases, in which institutions switch to online instruction, SEVP said it will temporarily waive restrictions on international students engaging in online coursework. Students’ SEVIS records should stay in active status if they continue courses online whether they are inside or outside the U.S.

SEVP stressed that the measures are temporary and that guidance is subject to change. Colleges must notify SEVP of procedural changes they make to respond to the coronavirus within 10 days of making those changes.

-- Elizabeth Redden

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Chronicle of Higher Education: Colleges Emptied Dorms Amid Coronavirus Fears. What Can They Do About Off-Campus Housing?

Some institutions are stretching the limits of their authority to stop students from gathering off campus.

Chronicle of Higher Education: Tenured Professors Say School’s Cost-Cutting Policies Violate Their Contracts and Undermine Their Research

Eight faculty members say the policies — both of which were enacted after they received tenure — have resulted in salary cuts and loss of laboratory space necessary to do their work.

India: institutions opt for virtual classes

The PIE News - Mon, 03/16/2020 - 11:06

A number of schools and higher education institutions across India have been forced to shut their campuses, suspend classes, cancel or postpone exams and events such as convocations, college festivals and exchange programs due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The University Grants Commission, the country’s apex higher education regulatory body, has directed all universities and their affiliated colleges to follow a set of guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Human lives are more important than some delays”

“Universities and colleges have been advised to avoid large gatherings on campus. Any staff member or student with a recent travel history to any of the coronavirus-affected countries, or in contact with such persons in the last 28 days, should be monitored and home quarantined for 14 days,” explained the letter issued by the UGC to vice-chancellors of all universities.

They have also been asked to follow hand and respiratory hygiene measures, with campuses of all universities being sanitized and cleaned on a daily basis.

Hostel students at some institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi were asked to vacate the premises by March 15, while a lot of college hostels are also vacant with students refraining from returning till the end of the month.

Many state governments have also sprung into action and have directed that schools and/or colleges be closed until March 31. These include Punjab, Odisha, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Delhi.

Several exchange programs with foreign universities in COVID-19 affected countries and Indian universities will also be impacted.

With several cases that have been detected in India, the country has suspended all visas until April 15. The government has advised all Indians to avoid non-essential travel abroad.

Universities and institutions such as University of Delhi, Jamia Millia Islamia, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Indian Institute of Technology Delhi have suspended classes till March 31.

Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, one of the country’s top B-schools, has deferred its annual convocation ceremony which was to be held on March 21.

“The decision has been taken to preclude any health risks to students and their families and friends, faculty and employees of the institute,” said a spokesperson from the institute.

Every institute will follow the guidelines issued by the respective state governments and in case of Central institutions, also those issued by the Centre.

Bhaskar Ramamurthi, director, Indian Institute of Technology Madras, said: “We are acting in accordance. As and when we get further instructions, we will implement them. We are also rigorously implementing the medical precautions suggested by the state health department.”

Officials said deferring and cancelling exams and classes will impact the academic calendar of institutions.

“This will delay the calendar by a few weeks and is necessary under the given circumstances to control the outbreak. After all, human lives are more important than some delays,” Anil Sahasrabudhe, chairman, All-India Council for Technical Education, told The PIE News.

The AICTE is the statutory body and a national-level council for technical education, under the Department of Higher Education, ministry of human resource development, the government of India.

Cancellation of events may lead to financial and other losses too.

“If tickets booked are cancelled, there would be some losses financially to individuals and organisations. But this is a price worth paying at this time of an emergency,” said Sahasrabudhe, adding that it is tough to quantify financial losses at this stage.

Institutions are considering online classes to help students. “The teachers will make study material available online to students. Internal assessment will also be done online until the pandemic is contained,” said AP Siddiqui, registrar, Jamia Millia Islamia.

“Teachers will be available as per schedule online through e-resources”

The University of Delhi, another top Central university, has also decided to offer online classes.

“To maintain continuity in the teaching-learning process in all undergraduate and postgraduate programs, the study material will be available weekly on the university website by teachers from all departments, faculties and centres of the university.

“Teachers will be available as per schedule online through e-resources,” said the University of Delhi registrar in a statement.

Many other universities and institutions are following suit and resorting to virtual teaching full-time, including private universities and institutes.

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