Inside Higher Ed

Groups say more borrowers should get payments suspended

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 00:00

Although help for student borrowers in Congress’s massive economic stimulus package has been widely publicized, including a six-month reprieve from making loan payments, more than a million people with loans may be surprised to learn they will not get any relief under the new measure.

Borrowers with Perkins and commercially held Federal Family Education Loans are excluded from the $2 trillion bill, which is expected to pass the U.S. House today after being approved by the Senate Wednesday.

As higher education policy experts pored over the bill over the last few days, several consumer groups said the next relief Congress takes up should include those who won't be reaping new benefits, including a waiver of federal interest on student loans and a moratorium on having overdue payments taken from wages, tax refunds and Social Security benefits, as well as temporarily being excused from making monthly payments.

A Senate Republican fact sheet on the bill said those left out make up 5 percent of all student loan borrowers, which the National Consumer Law Center estimated to be 1.2 million borrowers.

“There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be included,” said Michele Streeter, a policy analyst for the Institute for College Access & Success.

She said excluding certain borrowers will cause confusion. They'll hear about the loan payment deferrals, interest fee waivers and the wage garnishment suspensions that the legislation mandates and think, "I don't know why I'm not getting this," she said.

“This differing treatment based on loan type will create confusion among those with older loans that don’t qualify for the suspension,” said Alexis Goldstein, a senior policy analyst at Americans for Financial Reform, a progressive advocacy group.

“Leaving out borrowers with Perkins and commercially held FFEL loans is fundamentally unfair, and it will be difficult for these borrowers to get answers. Many of these borrowers are already having trouble contacting servicers due to reduced hours and the closing of call centers” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Goldstein said.

Scott Buchanan, president of the Student Loan Servicing Alliance, agreed that confused Perkins and FFEL borrowers will swamp loan servicers with calls. As a result, it’s important for those getting the new benefits to be aware that they will get them automatically. However, borrowers who can’t make their payments or who have economic hardships should call their loan servicers, he said.

A spokesman for Republican senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate education committee, didn’t reply to an email asking why these two types of borrowers were left out.

In a fact sheet for borrowers, the Education Department noted that borrowers in the two programs not covered by the new stimulus legislation can have the interest on their loans waived by getting a direct consolidation loan. But Goldstein noted that the fact sheet states that once the interest waiver ends, those who consolidated loans could end up paying higher interest than under their old loan programs. Additionally, any accumulated interest would be added to their principal, further increasing the amount they pay in interest.

“The Senate picked winners and losers by giving certain federal student loan borrowers a short break from making payments, from interest accrual and from involuntary collection, but withholding that help from others,” Persis Yu, director of the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project, said in a statement.

Education advocates want any new stimulus package proposed to address the disparity between different types of borrowers. Yu's and Goldstein’s groups also continued to urge Congress to cancel at least $10,000 from every federal student loan borrower’s debt, including those with Perkins and FFEL loans, as Senate and House Democrats proposed.

Colleges and universities also want more funding to help them with the cost of dealing with the crisis. Craig Lindwarm, vice president of congressional and governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said the next package needs to strengthen a provision in the most recent bill aimed at discouraging states from cutting higher education funding. The provision requires states to maintain funding in order to receive part of $3 billion grant for governors to use for either K-12 or higher education.

States could seek a waiver from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos if they are in financial crisis. And to determine if they are maintaining a level of spending for higher education, the feds would look at a three-year average for spending. But if, for example, a state increased spending in 2019 and 2020, counting the lower spending in 2017 would lower the three-year average. Indeed, Lindwarm said the three-year average of 48 states is lower than what they are spending on higher education this year.

While the focus of the impact of the bill on borrowers was on the question of debt cancellation, little noticed was a technical provision Senator Patty Murray got into the bill.

Under current regulations for federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, or SEOG, which institutions give to undergraduates with exceptional financial need, colleges were required to asses students' financial status, taking into account such factors as tuition costs and the expected amount their families can pay, to determine eligibility.

But it was unclear, as campuses close and offer students remote instruction during the pandemic, how the Education Department would view giving grants to help students pay for things such as airline tickets to go home because of campus closures, or to buy computers so they can have access to online instruction, said Robert Shireman, director of higher education excellence and a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.

“Schools were afraid the Department of Education in a year or two would do an audit and say you have to return a bunch of money to the federal government,” he said.

But Karen McCarthy, director of policy analysis at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said Murray's provision waives the requirement for institutions to calculate the amount of need before giving a student an emergency grant. Another provision also allows institutions to give students up to the amount of a Pell Grant in emergency aid, on top of their grant amount, thus clearing up institutions' uncertainty over how much the institutions could give.

“With the waivers, Congress is basically saying we trust you to use your best judgment on who most needs it,” Shireman said.

Removing the bureaucratic obstacles was important to advocates, because the bill allows institutions to use federal funding allotted for work-study jobs for the SEOG emergency grants. In addition, the legislation gives $14.25 billion to institutions to provide emergency help to students during the outbreak. That money does not carry the same restrictions as the supplemental grants.

“This is an emergency moment when paperwork requirements shouldn’t get in the way of people getting the help they need,” Shireman said.

Editorial Tags: CoronavirusFederal policyImage Source: Istockphoto.com/uschoolsImage Caption: Congress is giving aid to student loan borrowers in its coronavirus relief package, but not to all borrowers.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0

European exchange students face chaos

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 00:00

Exchange students have been left stranded across Europe by the coronavirus pandemic, as flights are canceled and borders erected amid mixed signals over whether to stay or go, according to student groups.

There are fears for the mental well-being of students now under lockdown away from their families in a foreign country, with universities being urged to provide as much support as possible.

But for the moment the general advice is that students should stay put, because of the sheer difficulty of leaving and the risk of spreading the virus back home.

Gohar Hovhannisyan, vice president of the European Students’ Union, an umbrella organization for national unions, described the situation as “very, very chaotic.”

Member unions have been inundated with inquiries. “They are trying to find out the answers, which don’t exist,” she said.

One problem is that many countries have told their students to return, said Kostis Giannidis, president of the Erasmus Student Network, yet some students felt trapped after their host countries announced that they were closing their borders.

In reality, he stressed, students were still allowed to travel back home on the whole, but confusion reigned nonetheless. “There is mixed communication coming from each side,” he said.

Some students had received contradictory advice -- being told to stay in place by their home institution but told to leave by their host, Giannidis added. It is a “big mess,” he said.

The situation is so fast-moving and complex that no group that spoke to Times Higher Education wanted to give definitive advice about what students should do.

But the ESN says that students should stay in place “if possible” unless recalled by their countries or universities.

Worse, getting home has become logistically difficult, with entry restrictions meaning transiting through an airport in a third country was sometimes forbidden, Giannidis said, while students in some countries were only able to leave on a plane chartered by their government, not commercially. Flight prices had also soared, he said. “It’s a bit of a risk for any international student to travel back.”

“At this point in time I wouldn’t try to get home to anywhere,” cautioned Michael Harms, communications director at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which last year granted about 145,000 scholarships to students in Germany and abroad but has now canceled all its summer semester grants because of coronavirus.

German students returning from abroad could find themselves in quarantine, he pointed out, adding that although hard figures are unavailable, “my hunch is that the majority will want to stay and stick it out … We are not overwhelmed by people saying they want to get out [of Germany].”

Still, the ESU believes students should have a “right to go home if they want to,” said Hovhannisyan.

In response, DAAD has promised its scholarship holders that it would financially support whatever decision they make, while the European Commission has said there will be “maximum flexibility” for Erasmus programs, so they can be extended or delayed.

For students who stay, it is crucial that universities look after their mental health, said Hovhannisyan. Some universities are providing online mental health support, but this was not “common,” she warned.

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Roundup: Cuts, 'Zoombombing' and 42 fried eggs

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 00:00

TGIF.

The Senate has approved a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package that includes one-time $1,200 checks for many Americans, as well as billions for higher education and interest relief for student loan borrowers. But some advocates say more should be done, like relieving months of federal student loan payments and providing more for minority-serving institutions.

Before we dive into the news, let's look at some palate cleansers.

Please turn your sound on for this.

God bless the internet. (Credit: unknown) pic.twitter.com/lcNYlIRUMM

— Jack Moore (@JFXM) March 25, 2020

Got some time this weekend? You could try replicating this experiment and frying 42 eggs.

There's some uplifting news from higher ed, too. A cohort of researchers, including a professor from Metropolitan State University of Denver, are playing around with 3-D printing to find a solution for pressing ventilator shortage. One possible answer? Scuba masks.

All right, let’s get to it.

Unemployment claims are way up. Last week, 3.3 million people filed for unemployment -- which shattered the previous record.

Colleges are feeling the heat, with hiring freezes already in place at many places. Contractors are feeling the brunt of the loss in many places now, as some institutions keep staff on payroll but let go of those on contracts.

However, one institution -- Ohio University -- is pausing its previously planned personnel cuts to reassess due to the public health crisis. A previous assessment found the university needed to cut $26 million from its about $759 million budget over three years.

In another round of bad news, the National Collegiate Athletic Association is lowering its payments to institutions. Division I institutions will receive $375 million less in total than originally budgeted for 2020.

Here’s a quick roundup of our latest stories, in case you’ve fallen a bit behind (we don’t blame you):

Kery Murakami continues to keep you up-to-date on what's happening on the Hill. Here, he talks with advocates about what they're pushing for in the next round of relief.

Ever heard of "Zoombombing"? Well, if you're an educator, you will probably encounter this phenomenon at some point. Elizabeth Redden has the ugly details.

Remember just waiting for Title IX regulations to drop? Simpler times. Now, universities are deciding whether to move forward with Title IX proceedings during a health crisis, Greta Anderson reports.

News From Elsewhere

The Atlantic has a look at four possible timelines for when things will return to "normal."

College students are very stressed and anxious right now, according to a survey the Los Angeles Times reported on.

An upside? It might be easier for high school seniors to get accepted into colleges this year, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Percolating Thoughts

This is a time when everyone has an opinion. As journalists, we try not to have opinions, but we've gathered some interesting ones from others.

A professor and Bloomberg opinion writer says universities shouldn't spend endowment funds on coronavirus relief.

What will happen to sports, ponders one sportswriter in The New York Times.

Liberal arts faculty have been reluctant to embrace online learning, according to a dean and professor at Oxford College of Emory University. How are they faring now?

Have any percolating thoughts or notice any from others? Feel free to send them our way or comment below.

We’ll continue bringing you the news you need in this crazy time. Keep sending us your questions and story ideas. We’ll get through this together.

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The  2020 Survey of College and University Student Affairs Officers

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 00:00

They find themselves at the center of many campus disputes.

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Disappointed college leaders and student debt advocates look to next round of stimulus

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 00:00

Advocates who have been pushing for student loan debt to be canceled were disappointed that, even with a $2.2 trillion price tag, the stimulus package approved by the U.S. Senate late Wednesday night doesn’t do more.

The president of the umbrella association representing colleges and universities also expressed disappointment, saying the amount of aid for higher education institutions in the bill is “woefully inadequate.”

So even before the Senate sent the relief package to the House, lobbyists were looking ahead to the next stimulus package, which Congress has already begun discussing.

“This isn’t the last bus,” said Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education's senior vice president for government and public affairs, after his group calculated that the bill contains about $14 billion for higher education institutions, far less than the $50 billion they requested in emergency aid.

It’s unknown what the next package would focus on, but with both K-12 and higher education groups complaining about being shortchanged this time, Congress could consider adding education funding, Hartle said.

Throughout the debate over the bill, advocates for student loan borrowers, such as the Young Invincibles, were pushing Democratic proposals in the House and Senate under which the federal government would have made payments on behalf of borrowers and reduced their balances by at least $10,000.

On Wednesday, Kyle Southern, higher education policy and advocacy director for the Young Invincibles, a millennial advocacy group, said, "Congress has done the basic duty for students and borrowers by holding them harmless for now." But, he said, "for people carrying a heavy load of student debt, this bill just places it farther down the trail for them to pick up again."

Under the measure, borrowers with federally held loans will be excused from making their monthly payments, without interest on their balances accruing, for six months, through Sept. 30.

“This bill will keep payroll checks coming to workers during the crisis, relieve financial burdens on Americans during the crisis,” Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican and education committee chairman, said in a statement.

The moratorium on making payments would extend the 60-day break, Betsy DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, announced last week. Some financial aid experts had worried that the temporary waiver on interest President Trump also announced could lead to problems because it required borrowers to contact loan servicers.

But Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said that based on what he’s been able to learn about the Senate bill, it appeared to make the moratorium on payments and interest automatic.

Draeger also was pleased the bill included a number of provisions to relax or clarify current regulations on behalf of borrowers, including not requiring Pell Grant recipients to repay the federal government if they had to leave school because it closed due to the crisis, as well as not counting disrupted academic terms toward the lifetime limit on receiving Pell. The bill also says canceled classes would not count against a student’s satisfactory academic progress calculation, according to the National College Attainment Network.

Still, as first reported by Inside Higher Ed Tuesday, the bill does not include any debt cancellation, except for a provision that forgives debt incurred in an academic term that ends up being disrupted by the pandemic.

While the suspension of payments helps in the short term, advocacy groups had wanted debt to be canceled, anticipating that borrowers will have a hard time making payments even after the crisis ends, as the economy gears back up.

Debt Cancellation as Sticking Point

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate minority leader, acknowledged on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon that the bill does not go as far as advocates wanted.

“This bill is far from perfect,” he said. “Many flaws remain, some serious. By no stretch of the imagination is this the bill Democrats would have written had we been in the majority … We would have included more relief for student borrowers.”

But a Democratic Senate aide said on Tuesday that “Republicans balked at the large-scale cancellation of student loans. We pushed until the end, but it’s not happening.”

In retrospect, Republican Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn telegraphed Republicans’ philosophical opposition to debt cancellation two weeks ago, even before the stimulus package came into shape, during a debate to undo DeVos’s new rule making it more difficult for students who were defrauded, mostly by for-profit institutions, to have their loans forgiven.

Speaking on the Senate floor, the Texas senator mocked Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, saying his proposal to forgive all federal student loans was a fantasy and not financially responsible.

“To say we’re going to wipe away the debt is not fair to the parents who started to save for their kids’ college even before they started walking or the college student who worked multiple jobs to graduate to work with little or no debt at all,” Cornyn said. “Or decided to go to a community college at a lower cost before they transferred to a four-year institution and found a way to mitigate or keep their debt manageable. And of course this idea of wiping away debt or making everything free is unfair to the person who chose not to go to college only then to be saddled with someone else’s debt.”

Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, before the announcement of the deal, Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, described the Democratic proposals for the emergency as a “liberal wish list” that included a “student loan giveaway.”

The stimulus measure is expected to pass the House, though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was unsure how to conduct a vote given the crisis. But some, including Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, raised concerns that the Senate bill would not cancel loans.

Concerns:

- No word on universal and monthly cash assistance
- No word on coverage for all testing/treatment for coronavirus
- No word on eviction/foreclosure protections
- No word on a ban on stock buybacks/bonuses
- No word on student debt, mortgage and rent relief

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) March 25, 2020

Medical colleges, however, were happy about a $100 billion emergency fund for health-care providers, which could benefit teaching hospitals.

David Skorton, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, said in a statement that the fund "will help stabilize teaching hospitals and faculty physician practices that are challenged by lost revenue attributable to the treatment of patients during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak -- losses estimated at millions of dollars per day."

Meanwhile, Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said in a statement Wednesday that the bill includes some easing of regulations, which institutions sought, and excuses student loan borrowers from making payments for six months. He added, though, that "in this area too there is more that could be done."

But, Mitchell said, “we cannot stress enough that overall, the assistance included in the measure for students and institutions is far below what is required to respond to the financial disaster confronting them.”

Based on the information available Wednesday afternoon, ACE estimated the bill provides far less than the $50 billion in aid requested by institutions.

The latest bill provides $30.75 billion for coronavirus-related aid for all of education, of which 47 percent is earmarked for higher education, about 43 percent for K-12. (States can use about 10 percent for education at their discretion.)

Higher education’s share of the $30.75 billion comes to about $14 billion.

Of that $14 billion, 90 percent was earmarked to go to institutions. And of that $12 billion, 75 percent would be distributed based on the enrollment equivalent of full-time students who are eligible for Pell Grants, favoring large colleges with large numbers of low-income students. The other 25 percent is distributed according to non-Pell enrollment. Those only taking courses online before the crisis  don't count.

The remaining 10 percent of the $14 billion for higher education is divided between historically black colleges and universities and grants for small institutions impacted by the pandemic.

The discretionary funding for states, however, carries a requirement that states not reduce funding for higher education. States could seek a waiver from DeVos if they are in financial crisis.

Craig Lindwarm, vice president of congressional and governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said the requirement would protect institutions from state budget cuts.

He said, though, that the Senate bill requires public institutions to offer extended paid leave. But unlike private businesses, colleges are not eligible for a federal tax credit to defray the cost.

Lindwarm also was looking forward to the next round of stimulus to fix that problem and to try to get additional funding.

“While this legislation is an improvement from where the Senate started, the amount of money it provides to students and higher education institutions remains woefully inadequate,” Mitchell said in a statement.

“Every college in the country is facing a cash flow crisis,” Hartle said. “Federal support will help, but we don’t think it will be enough,” he said, noting that on Tuesday, Central Washington University cited financial exigency and the Art Institute of San Francisco announced it will not accept any more students and will be laying off faculty because of the crisis.

“That’s a school that survived the great earthquake and two world wars. But it’s facing a swift end because of coronavirus,” Hartle said.

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'Zoombombers' disrupt online classes with racist, pornographic content

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 00:00

Like many professors across the country who've been displaced from college campuses because of the coronavirus pandemic, Lance Gharavi suddenly found himself teaching his spring semester courses at Arizona State University online using the Zoom meeting platform. His first Zoom session for an approximately 150-student Introduction to Storytelling course went terribly wrong.

Right off the bat, he said, one of the participants used a Zoom feature that lets a user display an image or a video in the background in order to show a pornographic video.

“I didn’t notice it until a student on chat said something about it,” said Gharavi, an associate professor in ASU's School of Film, Dance and Theater. Participants were using fake screen names, some of which he said were very offensive. "The chat window became incredibly active. Most of the comments were not on topic. They were vulgar, racist, misogynistic toilet humor. I would barely even call it humor."

Gharavi was not alone. The University of Southern California reported similar incidents occurring while professors taught classes on the same platform, indicating that the massive migration of college classes online due to the public health crisis came with a new threat -- one that's technical rather than biological. The professors were the victims of "Zoombombing" -- the "Zoom" in this case being the online meeting and course-hosting platform, and the "bombs" typically taking the form of racist vitriol or pornographic content shared with the group by an unwelcome user.

Gharavi doesn't know if the disruptive participants were students behaving badly or hackers who infiltrated his virtual classroom. He hopes it was the latter, because he didn't want to believe his students would do such a thing.

"I tried to keep going with class, but I just had to end it early because I had no way of controlling what was happening. I wasn’t an expert enough at managing a Zoom meeting yet to control it, so I finally ended it because the atmosphere was hostile to my students," Gharavi said. "I spent the next day and a half researching methods of controlling a meeting on Zoom, trying to develop a set of tech fixes that would allow me to maintain tight control over what happens in a Zoom classroom."

He also sent out announcements to students over Canvas, a learning management system, apologizing for the "awful" intrusion.

"I got a lot of emails from students saying how upset they were, but they were all very supportive. They were like, 'this isn’t your fault,'" he said.

Gharavi said the entire incident left him shaken.

"I have never had a day as nightmarish as that in the classroom where I was completely unable to control what happened," he said. "And what happened was horrifying and potentially triggering to some of my students."

There are technological steps professors can take to prevent such attacks, but many, like Gharavi, are learning on the job about the privacy settings of the webcast platforms they're now using.

USC -- where President Carol L. Folt reported Tuesday that some online Zoom classes were "disrupted by people who used racist and vile language that interrupted lectures and learning" -- has created a website with tips for how to prevent Zoombombing.

Zoom has also published a blog post on steps to take to keep would-be crashers out of Zoom meetings. The blog post gives tips on controlling access to meetings and setting up password protections and managing participants' ability to share their screens, as well as information on other options for controlling participants' activities including disabling participants' video, muting participants, turning off file transfer and annotation options, or disabling private chat functions. The company also suggests trying its waiting room feature, which it describes as "a virtual staging area that stops your guests from joining until you’re ready for them."​

A Zoom spokesperson said the company was "deeply upset" about the attacks.

"For those hosting large, public group meetings, we strongly encourage hosts to change their settings so that only they can share their screen," the spokesperson said. "For those hosting private meetings, password protections are on by default, and we recommend that users keep those protections on to prevent uninvited users from joining." The company encourages individuals to report incidents of this kind on its website.

Ruha Benjamin, an associate professor of African American studies at Princeton University and author of the book Race After Technology (Polity, 2019), has publicly called on Zoom to change its default setting to “off” for screen sharing to limit the potential for Zoombombing.

RT if you agree that @zoom_us should change its default screensharing to “off” to limit #zoombombing, then hosts can approve legit requests to share. https://t.co/htjXEHgMvE

— Ruha Benjamin (@ruha9) March 20, 2020

Benjamin made the call after a virtual storytelling event she did for children in collaboration with an independent bookstore in Princeton was targeted for a presumed Zoombombing attack. Benjamin said she was reading a children’s book called Walter the Farting Dog to a group of about 42 when someone in the Zoom meeting shared an image of “a chubby white guy in a thong with his genitals bulging.” Benjamin said the same user subsequently used the N-word several times, “so we knew it was a targeted, malicious thing.”

Benjamin said Zoom has a responsibility to change the default setting to disallow screen sharing by meeting participants unless the host of a meeting chooses to allow it.

“In the pre-virus era, I believe Zoom was mostly used in smaller groups within institutions,” she said. “Now that people are using it to sort of engender this broader sociality and connection beyond their immediate networks and beyond their immediate colleagues, I think Zoom has to adapt.”

Amelia Vance, the director of youth and education privacy and senior counsel at the Future of Privacy Forum, said webcast companies in general should consider ways in which individuals could abuse their product and “make sure you have set the defaults to minimize the possibility of abuse.”

“That’s not the way that online companies have really been set up,” Vance added. “As we’ve seen in reporting over the last couple years, many companies are set up to allow ease of access and broad information collection as default settings instead of thinking more completely about preventing harms or protecting privacy.”

Vance said professors who plan courses or other educational meetings in Zoom need to be “careful about how they’re planning out these meetings, double-checking that the people who are attending the class or the meeting are only the people who are supposed to be there, making sure that the default settings prior to the meeting starting are all privacy protective. And that’s just not something we’ve trained educators to do. This is all new.”

Allison Henry, chief information security officer at the University of California, Berkeley, said the most important piece of advice “is to familiarize yourself with what the settings are and what the options are. What you might need for a section of five students who may be known to you might be different than if you have a forum of 500 people.”

She said control over who comes into the meeting and retaining the ability to expel people from the meeting and allowing them back in are both important. She added that professors might consider designating a cohost, such as a student instructor, who could, for example, monitor the discussion in a chat box while the professor is preoccupied with presenting material.

“My biggest concern is we’ve had to rush these tools out the door so quickly because of the circumstances that it doesn’t really give people time to make themselves familiar,” Henry said. “We all need to take the time to go through it, to make sure we understand it and set up our meetings and our settings with intention.”

Brian Kelly, director of the cybersecurity program at Educause, an association focused on educational technology, agreed.

"We’re all trying to get the content of courses online, and some of the things might be simple awareness issues like making the Zoom invitation private versus public," he said.

"It's just now being used at a scale and in new ways," Kelly said of Zoom and other online meeting platforms. "A professor may not have used it to teach class; they may have used it with colleagues. It's new ways of using it that require taking a little bit more time and being a bit more thoughtful about how we’re configuring Zoom" and other similar programs.

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Policies protect college staff members amid crisis, but contractors are left out

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 00:00

Workers at the University of Pennsylvania are going to be employed and paid through the semester, COVID-19 or not.

But the same is not true for the contract staff members who may work at Penn but are employed by Bon Appétit, a dining vendor. Those workers are being laid off without pay at the end of the month.

That divide is now playing out all over the country. As dining halls, residences and campus grounds see fewer students, the need for hundreds of employees on campus diminishes. It's true that many universities are offering the employees who can't work better protections and pay than other businesses would. But contract workers often are left out of those commitments.

For a university administration, that may seem logical. Those workers, who feed and clean up after students, are not technically their employees. The outsourcing of these and many other campus services became the norm years ago.

Students and unions, however, have said paying those workers is still the right thing to do.

At Stanford University, directly employed staff have been guaranteed pay, whether they can work or not, until April 15. Jose Escañuela, president of SEIU Local 2007 and himself a Stanford groundskeeper, said some food service employees still are required to come in, but most other units are home with pay.

Janitors at Stanford, though, are not directly employed by the university and are contractors. Those employees, who are part of a different union, are more vulnerable, Escañuela said. A campus group called Students for Workers' Rights has urged the university to extend the salary continuance to contractors.

Harvard University has agreed to pay its dining workers, whose work has been eliminated, for at least 30 days. But the Labor and Employment Law Project at Harvard Law said in a letter that many contract staff are left out of that policy.

John Preston, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local 929, which represents the laid-off Penn workers, said the prospects for those employees are not good. Though many go without work over the summer, most have budgeted strictly and were relying on their last 2.5 months of income.

"These employees are neighbors of this university," Preston said. "Unemployment is not going to pay what the university pays. It doesn't make them whole."

Though the union asked Bon Appétit to provide for workers, the company declined. Now the union is asking Penn to step in and pay workers through the vendor.

"They have $10 billion in endowment," Preston said. "They sure could afford to subsidize Bon Appétit and have Bon Appétit pay their employees for the remainder of the semester." The University of Pennsylvania actually has $14 billion in its endowment.

"The vast majority of businesses nationwide, including Bon Appétit have been dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 situation," the university said in a statement to campus. "And, as this crisis is still unfolding, it is unclear what will be required of food service operations in the coming weeks."

Who Can Afford to Pay?

Other universities that may not have the endowments of the aforementioned three institutions may have trouble making commitments to even their direct staff. Quinnipiac University is reducing all salaries in response to the crisis. Employees who make under $50,000 per year will see a 3 percent cut, with all others seeing a 5 percent.

That rule may not always hold true. Santa Clara University is a short drive from Stanford, but it has an endowment about 27 times smaller. For direct staff, the Jesuit college has offered to pay employees until April 30, about two weeks longer than its neighbor.

The question about what will both universities will do after their April commitment dates remains unclear.

In a letter to staff, Santa Clara administration said it could lose $13 million in expected revenue from room and board alone.

"Stanford has the ability more than Santa Clara to recover," said Escañuela, whose union represents workers at both colleges.

A spokesperson for Santa Clara said that after April, the administration hopefully will have a clearer picture of its financial position. In the meantime, the administration is limiting discretionary spending and putting a hiring freeze on noncritical positions.

Workers who have seen their salaries covered by universities have expressed gratitude. Georgetown University has committed to keeping all its contract dining workers paid until the end of the semester. The university is giving Aramark, its vendor, the funds.

Daysi Molina, who works at a cafe on Georgetown's campus, is now able to stay home, as her doctor has instructed her. She's been able to drive her son to his job at Safeway, so he can avoid public transit.

"This is the first time I feel safe," she said.

Sheila Alsbrook, who works in Georgetown's dining hall, said the payment from the university was "a blessing."

"I was just so grateful to know that Georgetown was paying us," she said. "They thought about our safety."

She is in a high-risk group and is staying home, though some of her coworkers have volunteered to keep the dining hall staffed.

"It's important that some of these other colleges pay their employees if the companies they're contracting with say they won't pay us," she said. "We the people should come first."

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Coronavirus creates Title IX obstacles

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 00:00

The coronavirus pandemic has created immense uncertainty about how colleges and universities can and should proceed with open investigations of sexual assault or harassment complaints. Some colleges are finding it impossible to hold in-person hearings with campus closures and “stay at home” orders issued by state and local governments.

On one hand, victims of alleged sexual misconduct on campuses will endure prolonged trauma if investigations are delayed and may never see their cases resolved, advocates for survivors argue. At the same time, students accused of such misconduct could be put at a disadvantage if cases were to proceed through telephone or videoconferences, said Andrew Miltenberg, an attorney whose firm, Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP, currently represents about 50 students accused of misconduct at institutions across the United States.

Miltenberg sent letters to his clients’ colleges when they began closing their campuses, asking their Title IX officials that handle sexual misconduct and harassment cases to postpone interviews and hearings. He said he contacted Syracuse University, Purdue University and Loyola University of Chicago, among others, and a “great majority” of them decided to proceed with the hearings after no more than a week of delay. If investigative meetings with his clients or witnesses are to take place virtually, investigators will not be able to effectively judge their credibility through nonverbal cues, which would prove “detrimental” to accused students, Miltenberg said.

Anna Rozenich, director of communications for Loyola Chicago, said the university could not comment publicly on individual cases, but it “remains absolutely committed to providing a fair and equitable process for all students even in the face of unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 transmission presents.”

Syracuse is moving forward with investigations “while at the same time working to balance the university’s legal obligation to prevent and redress discriminatory or harassing behavior with the reality of the global pandemic,” Sarah Scalese, senior associate vice president for communications, said in a written statement.

She noted that federal privacy laws prevent universities from commenting on specific cases, but added in the statement, “We are doing everything we can to be flexible and adapt to the challenging environment this pandemic has created while continuing to advance open investigations.”

Processes at Purdue Fort Wayne are being "modified until the university returns to more normal operations,"  Geoff Thomas, senior director of media relations, said in an email.

"Those who are involved in pending matters have, or will soon, receive notice of the adjustments," Thomas wrote. He added that the university "is putting the health and safety of our campus community first and at this time no in-person meetings are being required.”

Miltenberg said continuing with investigations remotely would be unfair to accused students because the individuals who filed complaints against his clients were granted in-person interviews as part of the process required under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex at federally funded institutions.

“I don’t think that any person can argue with the fact that as human beings, there is something that we all gain from speaking with someone in person, that we can’t always gain from a telephone call, email, text message or even a videoconference,” Miltenberg said. “That’s an important element of presenting your narrative when you’re an accuser and the accused.”

Ray, a student who graduated from a college in Boston and did not want to be identified beyond her middle name, filed a Title IX complaint in November against a male student who she alleged raped her at his college in Illinois. She said all her interviews with the college's investigators took place over Skype. So her “heart sank” when the college emailed her on Tuesday, informing her of a shelter-in-place order issued for the state, which caused her prehearing meeting to be “postponed to a later date.” Her case “will proceed as soon as the order and outbreak allow,” said the letter, which referred to the college’s student handbook requirement for in-person hearings.

Ray questioned why the college had allowed her to participate in virtual meetings throughout the investigation and now will not proceed over videoconference. She called the decision “inconsistent.”

She said she’ll probably drop the case because of how long it has already taken to move the process forward, even though the college has already concluded its fact finding and told Ray the respondent’s alleged violations could result in his suspension or expulsion, according to the letter.

“They’re obviously giving my assailant the upper hand, and I’m wondering why,” said Ray. “I don’t want this hanging over my head, because it’s weighing on me in a way that’s not productive.”

Delays in cases such as Ray’s will have a number of adverse effects on survivors, said Sarah Nesbitt, a policy and advocacy organizer for Know Your IX, a network of student organizers that supports survivors of sexual violence. The defenders of accused students are “wielding the public health crisis to further strip survivors of their rights and access to education,” Nesbitt said.

“Many survivors that have cases open are on track to graduate this spring. They could be tethered to their university in this very negative way,” Nesbitt said. “Respondents might be able to graduate without the investigation occurring, stripping survivors of their right to even get recourse from their institutions."

Prolonging Title IX investigations or hearings could negatively impact respondents as well, Nesbitt said. Some institutions put holds on the diplomas and transcripts of students involved in sexual misconduct proceedings, which could be problematic for graduating seniors and students applying for graduate school, she said.

Miltenberg agrees that all parties involved in Title IX cases want them finished sooner rather than later, but “the desire for speed or results should not compromise the process,” he said.

Nesbitt said it is shortsighted to entirely dismiss the option of telephone or videoconferencing to move cases forward. She said while it might not work for every situation, such as when either the complainant or respondent has limited access to necessary technology, it’s not impossible to conduct a fair procedure remotely. Videoconferencing is often used for investigations that take place during breaks or while students are studying abroad, Nesbitt said.

“We can point to the practices of the past,” Nesbitt said, recalling the time she was a witness in a Title IX investigation in the United States while studying abroad and was interviewed by an investigator based in the U.S. by telephone. “Not to say everything is perfect, but it’s not impossible to do fairly.”

Title IX complaints were required to be handled in a more timely fashion before Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, rescinded Obama-era guidance recommending that a “typical” investigation of a single incident “takes approximately 60 calendar days following receipt of the complaint.”

A DOE fact sheet from 2017 outlining institutions’ obligation to respond to complaints of campus sexual misconduct states, “There is no fixed time frame under which a school must complete a Title IX investigation.”

This lack of a set time frame has left colleges and universities unsure of how to proceed during the public health crisis, said Steven Richard, lead attorney for the Title IX practice at Nixon Peabody, a law firm that represents dozens of colleges and universities. The language used throughout years of DOE Title IX guidance has required institutions to provide “prompt and equitable” processes for both complainants and respondents, and some institutions have their own flexible student conduct policies that allow for adjustment in times such as these, he said.

For example, the college where Ray filed her complaint includes a provision for “unanticipated delays” that would allow the college to revise the timing of steps in her case and proceed “as quickly as reasonably possible given the circumstances,” according to the college’s handbook. Public institutions especially, which are subject to constitutional due process obligations, share Miltenberg’s concern of fairness in the process and that respondents are given “the opportunity to be heard and confront witnesses” either directly or through an adviser, Richard said.

“Part of the challenge will be that both the complaining student and the responding student have the chance to consult with advisers who may be remote,” Richard said. “That’s the overriding goal, to be ‘prompt and equitable.’ Circumstances have intervened that create very challenging and immediate questions about how you interpret those promises to students.”

Public institutions must also stay up-to-date with federal court opinions that could affect telephone and videoconference capabilities, Richard wrote in an article aimed at clients and colleagues who represent colleges in Title IX matters. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, has required institutions to “afford accused students with a right to cross-examine his or her accuser at a hearing,” Richard wrote. Most courts have recognized that these hearings should not be held electronically, Miltenberg said.

Richard has advised his college and university clients “not to stop” ongoing Title IX processes. But he recommends they carefully assess the process, make adjustments and communicate with all parties involved, each step of the way. Institutions have already been under pressure from students claiming in court they were treated unfairly in Title IX processes; the challenges presented by the pandemic could open them up to more legal battles, he said.

Colleges are now looking to the Department of Education to provide some guidance, Richard said. Also weighing on administrators are the department’s pending Title IX rule changes, which could be finalized in the coming weeks and “substantially change” their policies and procedures amid the already-existing difficulties posed by the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

Angela Morabito, press secretary for DOE, declined to comment on the rule and college officials' request for more guidance from the department.

“We would all benefit from some clarity to protect some colleges and institutions, but also all the students,” Richard said. “We’re all trying to figure out where to go and how best to do so, and any clarity, guidance or instruction from the Department of Education would be welcome to define for us what we should be doing moving forward.”

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Roundup: Refunds, bailouts and Lieutenant Dan

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 00:00

We're almost to the weekend. A stimulus package is making its way through Congress. Colleges are gathering up laptops to give to students so they can continue to learn online. The number of cases of coronavirus in the States continues to rise, but some local and state governments are taking actions to curtail the spread.

Let's take a break before diving into the news.

This is Lieutenant Dan, a two-legged puppy from Ohio who is the new mascot for Cadbury, maker of the infamous Cadbury creme egg.

Love is still going in the time of coronavirus. Two women tied the knot in New York City, with a friend officiating from a window and others cheering from cars, to ensure they'd both have health insurance if one of them lost their job, according to this story from The Cut. Ah, romance.

All right, let’s get to the news.

The Senate's proposed stimulus bill includes a tax break for student loan payments made by employers. Experts have said a tax break could expand those programs.

S&P Global Ratings is giving a negative outlook to private student housing projects, in addition to higher education over all. Reasons include generally stressful business conditions, as well as broader challenges colleges are facing. Social distancing and college students being sent home from campuses won't help the industry much, either.

Speaking of housing, the University of Maine system estimates its room and board refunds will cost nearly $13 million.

Dozens of professors have signed a letter calling on Congress to help people, not big businesses. Several talked about the dire situation we face in a virtual press conference.

Betsy DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, announced the department will stop involuntary collections of late student loan payments.

Here’s a quick roundup of our latest stories, in case you’ve fallen a bit behind (we don’t blame you):

Emma Whitford has a story on how college leaders are tackling the crisis, one step at a time.

I wrote about the implications on students' privacy due to the quick switch to online learning.

Doug Lederman talked with experts about how the sudden move to remote learning will affect the well-being of professors and students.

News From Elsewhere

What won't be happening because of the coronavirus? The Chronicle of Higher Education tallies the cancellations at one private university.

EdSurge asks whether the coronavirus will inspire another MOOC moment.

If you're wondering what's up with summer courses, U.S. News & World Report posed that question to some universities.

Percolating Thoughts

This is a time when everyone has an opinion. As journalists, we try not to have opinions, but we've gathered some interesting ones from others.

"Confessions of a Community College Dean" ponders how "rain checks" will work in higher ed during this time of uncertainty.

How can colleges help faculty right now? A professor at Albion College has some ideas.

A senior fellow from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center argues that the proposed tax break for employers who help pay off student loans will help those who need it least.

Have any percolating thoughts or notice any from others? Feel free to send them our way or comment below.

We’ll continue bringing you the news you need in this crazy time. Keep sending us your questions and story ideas. We’ll get through this together.

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Pivot to online raises concerns for FERPA, surveillance

Wed, 03/25/2020 - 00:00

Most colleges and universities across the country have pivoted to remote learning in an effort to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus sweeping the globe.

While the sudden change is necessary, some privacy experts worry about the unintended consequences.

Ensuring the software colleges are now using doesn't violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, is one key issue, according to Amelia Vance, director of youth and education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum. Another issue is the potential for increased surveillance of students as colleges switch from in-person classes to virtual ones.

Data Collection

FERPA is technology neutral, according to Leroy Rooker, a senior fellow at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. Colleges are allowed to use contractors and consultants for services -- including for online instruction -- but the contracts need to include stipulations to protect student privacy under the law.

Most importantly, if the vendor collects any data on its users, the college has to be the owner of that information. This means that the data can only be used or redisclosed at the college's direction.

Colleges should be thinking about whether any FERPA-protected information will be revealed in their pivots to remote learning, said Joanna Lyn Grama, associate vice president at Vantage Technology Consulting Group.

"Is there FERPA-protected information that the online provider is potentially creating or storing that's distinct from the school's?" Grama said.

Metadata could be another area of concern, she said. While that data might not be personal information under FERPA, it could be a tool for someone to get personal information.

If colleges are operating under existing contracts with these companies, Grama said, they're likely safe because they took the time for review before the pandemic hit. If they're creating new contracts, those agreements likely are short term, which will give colleges a chance to go back and review them to ensure they're compliant once things settle down.

Some have concern over Zoom Video Communications Inc., a web-conferencing platform that many faculty members are now using to connect with students virtually.

Zoom does not sell its data to anyone and is compliant with FERPA, according to emailed responses the company sent to Inside Higher Ed.

"We take our users’ privacy incredibly seriously. Zoom only collects user data to the extent it is absolutely necessary to provide technical and operational support, and to improve our services. Zoom must collect technical information like users’ IP address, OS details and device details in order for our service to function properly. When user data is used for service improvement, it is completely anonymized and aggregated immediately upon collection in order to protect users’ identities and privacy," said Jay Clarke, senior privacy program manager at Zoom.

‘Coronavirus Is a Selling Opportunity’

The pandemic also raises broader questions about privacy.

"In some ways, you're inevitably going to have more monitoring of students in order to verify attendance," Vance said. If institutions choose to track how much work students are doing to ensure they're meeting credit hours, or are verifying identification of students for attendance and using tools like facial recognition, it would greatly affect surveillance of students.

But institutions don't have to go that route, according to Bill Fitzgerald, a privacy researcher at Consumer Reports.

"When you don't trust your students, surveillance is what you fall back on," Fitzgerald said.

Instead of testing students in ways that require surveillance to prevent cheating, colleges could instead encourage faculty to use project-based learning and portfolio-based assessments, which require students to truly engage with the work and are more difficult to cheat, he said.

Colleges should be wary of companies that might take advantage of the situation right now to increase surveillance through potentially unnecessary software to monitor students' online work.

"There are people who, right now, are thinking about ways that the coronavirus is a selling opportunity," Fitzgerald said.

Now is not the time to hastily adopt new technology, Fitzgerald said. Rather, it's the time to return to the basics, figure out what works the best for the most people and ensure students are getting the basics they need in order to learn.

"I don't think that anything is etched in stone, but I think we need to embed good practices now," he said.

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College leaders chip away at growing list of urgent coronavirus response tasks

Wed, 03/25/2020 - 00:00

To give a glimpse into the virtual meeting rooms of college leaders responding to the new coronavirus, Larry Ladd, a senior consultant at AGB, laid out a hypothetical.

“Let’s say you’re a president,” he said. “You have to keep the urgent and the important both balanced in your head -- and that’s not easy to do.”

“Urgent” matters, according to Ladd, are decisions leadership teams have to make within hours or days, such as determining where students will ride out the remainder of the semester, migrating classes online or canceling them outright, managing staff and payroll, and monitoring liquidity.

“Important” decisions, relegated to tomorrow or coming weeks, include refunding room and board costs, planning for summer terms, nailing down fall enrollments and hiring for open faculty and administrative positions. Very little can be tabled indefinitely.

“There isn’t much that goes on at a college or university that isn’t related to the financial condition of a place,” Ladd said. In other words, if any thread comes loose, the entire institutional fabric threatens to unravel.

It’s been about two months since the first cases of coronavirus were detected in the United States. Since then, most colleges have either suspended classes or moved entirely online. Some have shut down campuses entirely, while others are operating essential services only. Questions about room and board and tuition refunds are beginning to be answered, and job security for college employees, particularly hourly workers, is up in the air at many institutions.

In the past months and still today, college leadership teams have been working long hours to tackle the next most important thing.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, broke down leadership’s priorities into three groups: student and personnel safety, systems resilience, and continuing the work of the college.

“This is the Maslow’s hierarchy of disaster recovery,” he said.

Student and personnel safety drove the decision for many colleges to close or move to remote teaching. Systems resilience includes bringing large-scale communications software online and making sure students, staff and faculty members are equipped with phones, computers and internet access. Now, many leadership teams are tying up loose ends in step two and moving into step three to determine how to keep the college operational through the duration of the outbreak.

At the University of San Francisco, “The president's cabinet has been meeting by Zoom every day,” said Donald Heller, vice president for operations and former provost at the university.

Prioritizing issues is like “trying to juggle all of the balls [at once],” he said. “You can’t just put a bunch of things aside and focus on just one thing.”

‘A League of Its Own’

Scott Cowen, former president of Tulane University and senior adviser for Boston Consulting Group, saw Tulane through the storm and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The new coronavirus is nothing like a natural disaster, he said.

“This is in a league of its own,” he said. “A natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina, for example, is localized in one part of the country. [In this case] everybody is going through the same thing, so no one is going to have a competitive advantage because everyone is suffering.”

The University of San Francisco pulled together a COVID-19 response team from already existing infectious disease and emergency management teams.

For most colleges, planning for outcomes is difficult because there is no precedent, according to Ladd.

“There are no models, there’s no historical experience,” he said. “You compare this to a traditional recession like we had in 2008, Hurricane Katrina like we had in 2005 … but in all of those cases, you knew when things were going to get better.”

Mitchell says there’s little across-the-board guidance because every institution will approach their responses differently.

“As much as we and other people would love to be able to put out a kind of checklist … you can't do that,” he said.

All Hands on Deck

As campus operations slow or close, some colleges are reassigning employees to areas with greater need at the college.

“Admissions people don’t have anything urgent in respect to current students and faculty, so you can have them planning” for different contingencies, Ladd said. The CFO may be tasked with worrying about liquidity and revenue, while budget teams are building out financial models for a variety of scenarios in the coming months.

Libraries at the University of San Francisco are closed, Heller said, and the university is looking at how librarians can help out in other areas.

Some colleges, particularly large universities with research hospitals and other services, may be staffing up to sanitize dorms and campus buildings.

“For some institutions there have been hiring accelerations,” Mitchell said. “We’re seeing a lot of institutions spending more money keeping people safe and sound.”

Financial Aid Needs Ratchet Up

A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour poll shows that 18 percent of adult respondents -- excluding those who were not employed or retired prior to the outbreak -- said that they or someone in their household has been laid off or had work hours reduced as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Twenty-five percent of respondents making less than $50,000 a year said the same.

“Family incomes are going to plummet for a large number of families,” Ladd said. “Suddenly, students or parents are going to the financial aid office right now and saying … ‘I need help.’”

Colleges could recover some financial aid costs that will no longer be applicable after room and board refunds, but likely more students will need additional aid.

“We are absolutely concerned about that,” Heller said. “And we’re concerned at what impact this will have on our fall enrollments, particularly because we’re so dependent on international students … We don’t know if they’ll be able to come, if they will be able to get visas to get on a plane.”

The University of San Francisco is tuition-dependent, and 13 percent of undergraduates are international students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Room and board refunds will leave a multimillion-dollar hole in its operating budget, according to Heller, and an increased need for student aid will pile on financial pressure.

What’s Being Set Aside?

It’s likely more and more colleges will implement hiring freezes in the coming weeks. Brown University announced Tuesday that it would suspend faculty and staff hiring for the current year and the fiscal year beginning July 1, effective immediately.

Heller said USF has introduced a hiring “slowdown.” Mitchell said he’s seen searches for senior-level positions, including presidencies, put on hold.

When asked whether colleges would kick capital improvement down the road, Ladd, Heller, Mitchell and Cowen each chuckled and said, “Yes.”

“Cash is king,” Cowen said. “You want to stockpile as much cash as you need in reserves because you don’t know how long this will last.”

New development on campuses is a low priority at the moment. It may be one of the few areas of campus operations that can be set aside.

“When you get into the big-ticket items that were on the drawing board … they may gather dust for a while,” Mitchell said.

Presidents and other college leaders are not immune to the human impact of the coronavirus.

“Our presidents are running on adrenaline,” Mitchell said. Their commitments to their institutions are “driving people, keeping them up for the 24-hour cycles that they need to be up. But everybody’s tired, everybody’s fatigued.”

On Tuesday, Harvard president Lawrence Bacow, 68, announced that he and his wife tested positive for the virus and are continuing to isolate themselves at home. John Garvey, 71, president of Catholic University of America, said he tested positive on March 19, and he is quarantined at home with no symptoms.

The University of Texas at Austin's president, Greg Fenves, 63, said his wife, Carmel, tested positive on March 13. He also announced last week that Brent Iverson, dean of UT Austin’s school of undergraduate studies, tested positive for coronavirus.

When asked how the University of San Francisco leadership team is holding up, Heller said that “morale is pretty good.”

“Certainly people are stressed out, and it’s challenging to work remotely and not be able to see each other face-to-face,” he said. “Everybody realizes … that this is the opportunity to step up and do everything we can to protect our students and protect our staff.”

Cowen hopes college leaders will learn from the outbreak and therefore be better prepared for the next one.

"Out of every great tragedy, everyone has an obligation to somehow get lessons learned," he said, "and to respond to those in such a way to make the institution, the United States and the globe better."

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Survey gauges the state of the online education landscape pre-coronavirus

Wed, 03/25/2020 - 00:00

When it started to become clear that institutions would have to end in-person instruction and begin teaching students remotely because of the coronavirus crisis, whom did presidents call first? Probably their institution's chief online officer, the highest-ranking official responsible for whatever they do in terms of distance or digital learning.

A new survey of those officials, released this week by Quality Matters and Eduventures -- respectively, a nonprofit group focused on ensuring quality in online education and a research and advisory group -- was conducted in spring 2019, well before COVID-19 was on any of our radar screens. As is true for most surveys being released these days, the data for this one, "The Changing Landscape of Online Education, 2020" (CHLOE for short), must be read in light of the fact that the coronavirus has dramatically changed the environment for online learning like so many others.

But the data still provide some potentially useful insights into the current situation by giving a sense of how well prepared campuses were, on various fronts, to respond to the current imperative that they conduct most of their instruction virtually.

The answer, not surprisingly, is a mixed bag.

About 70 percent of respondents to the CHLOE survey said that they did not require students to take training or orientation in studying online before they took a virtual course. That varied significantly by sector, as the graph below shows, with regional private institutions being most likely to require such training and public institutions of various kinds (flagships, regional publics and community colleges, which collectively enroll most of the nation's students) being among the least likely to require it. Four-year institutions with low online enrollments and what the study calls enterprise institutions, which tend to have large online operations, were in between.

"Given the known difficulties of students adjusting to online study, we considered the figures for required online student orientation … as surprisingly low," the report's authors write.

With dropout rates for online education being higher than for face-to-face courses, the findings were surprising, wrote one of the authors, Ronald Legon, executive director emeritus of Quality Matters. He wondered why institutions wouldn't take the extra step of requiring students to prepare for online study.

Much talk and a fair number of horror stories circulating on social media in recent weeks focused on whether college faculty members are prepared for the sudden, required move to virtual classrooms. The CHLOE survey suggests that a majority of them have at least had some training, unlike their students, as noted above.

About 60 percent of chief online officers said their college or university required faculty members to engage in some formal training before teaching online. Such training is most common at community colleges and four-year colleges with low online enrollments. It is less so at flagship universities and at enterprise institutions.

The survey also asked the online learning leaders whether their institutions had teaching and learning centers that provide support to faculty members for using technology or innovative practices in their classrooms. More than three-quarters did, with some reporting multiple such centers, as seen below.

Those data collectively show that most institutions aren't prepared to flip a switch and move all their learning into truly online settings, said Legon. That perhaps explains why most colleges -- for this spring semester, at least -- are generally embracing a very low-technology form of remote learning, involving Zoom or other video platforms and various tools for communicating about assignments and assessments.

"That seems to me the only thing sensible that can happen right now, to use our online tools for communication, to put out material and assignments, to accept back results and perhaps give exams online," Legon said. But as the weeks pass, if colleges remain shut down physically, the pressure on institutions will grow to "actually design and build structured online courses that use the online tools as effectively as they can," he said.

It will be important for colleges to signal clearly to students and professors that the brand of virtual education most of them are seeing right now isn't the sort of high-quality online education that is possible when it is designed thoughtfully with help from professionals and well-trained professors.

The brand of virtual instruction that most professors and students are doing on the fly right now could damage perceptions of online education, Legon said. Based on it, "those who have only a limited understanding of online learning, or have avoided it all together, are likely to be disappointed, frustrated and perhaps confirmed in their belief that this is not a viable alternative to traditional classroom education."

If the current situation lingers, and colleges are forced to continue to offer most or all of their instruction at a distance into the fall, how well prepared will most institutions be to produce truly high-quality online courses across the board?

This year's CHLOE survey finds that a majority of instructors at most colleges produce their online courses either by themselves or with optional support from professional instructional designers at their institutions. Legon noted that previous iterations of the survey have shown that most colleges have relatively small numbers of instructional designers, with the typical community college having no more than one or two such positions.

What would happen if colleges tried to hire instructional designers in large numbers to try to ramp up high-quality online offerings in a hurry for the fall? "I don’t think there’s a pipeline that could respond," Legon said. "That's a real problem if you're trying to do this at scale."

Other Findings

Nearly one in four chief online officers (24 percent) said their institution had at least one contract with a company that provides assistance on creating and managing online programs, called online program managers, or OPMs, up from 12 percent in 2017. Officials cited student marketing and recruitment as the most common areas for which they sought outside help, but about half of those that used online program management companies said they were involved in online course and program development, too.

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How institutions are approaching scientific research during COVID-19

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

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

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

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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Students organize their own aid networks as campuses close for virus

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."

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

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

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

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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