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Senate committee was close to a deal on higher ed; then came the pandemic

Mié, 04/15/2020 - 00:00

It feels like a long time ago. But before the pandemic created a public health crisis, shuttered businesses and raised questions about how and when Congress will be able to meet again, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate’s education committee were “dang close” to reaching an agreement to update the nation’s main higher education law after years of failure, according to a top Republican aide to the committee.

In February Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican and the committee's chairman, spoke at the annual Community College Legislative Summit.

About 300 people were crowded in a room in the Senate’s Hart Office Building. Most were seated in metal chairs, while others stood shoulder to shoulder. A catering worker at the Capitol refilled coffeepots at a table in the back.

This was before social distancing.

Alexander was optimistic that day, but he said the committee would have to move quickly for Congress to pass the measure by the end of the year.

The optimism was backed up by Republicans on the committee who felt a deal was so close that Alexander could soon schedule a vote in the committee on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, the aide said in an interview last week.

But then the pandemic arrived.

Alexander is back in Tennessee, living in one room while his wife lives in another during the pandemic, Politico reported last weekend.

“I’ve been on the phone until my neck hurts,” Alexander, whose committee also handles health-care policy, told the news site. “I find myself sort of exhausted at the end of the day from the phone calls and the discussions I’m having about the present and what comes next.”

Now hopes for a deal and a committee vote have been quashed as attention has turned to the immediate crisis and stimulus packages to help workers and businesses just survive. It’s unknown if the Senate will return to the Capitol on April 20 as scheduled, and if so, exactly how it would conduct business. The House, which was also supposed to return that day, announced Monday it will not convene until May 4.

A couple of months ago, the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act -- which included provisions to simplify the application for student aid and for increasing the size of Pell Grants --- was for higher education lobbyists the top issue of the year.

But on Monday, Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs for the American Council on Education, said in an interview, “I haven’t heard anyone even mention reauthorization for two months.”

Agreeing was Craig Lindwarm, vice president for government affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

“Passing a comprehensive HEA reauthorization seemed like a herculean task at the beginning of the year,” he said. “With Congress rightly focused on helping the nation address COVID-19’s massive impact on public health and the economy, 'herculean' now seems like a very generous way to describe the likelihood of a comprehensive reauthorization of HEA.”

The Republican aide said, “It’s dishonest to say it’s not harder now. Until we get to a stable public safety environment, everything is hold.”

But the aide said he hasn’t given up on trying to reach a deal on the bill this year, before Alexander retires.

The basis for that hope is if the top doctors on President Trump’s coronavirus task force, Anthony S. Fauci and Deborah Birx, are correct and life might be able to begin returning to a semblance of normalcy by the end of May.

And if negotiations continue, they’d pick up where they were before the pandemic.

"I felt like we were pretty close to an agreement," the aide said. "I felt pretty close to being able to schedule a markup."

The aide said Republicans were having "really good, productive conversations" with Senator Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat who is the committee's ranking member.

"We were getting dang close, and there’s no reason why those conversations can’t go on," according to the aide.

What Happens Next?

Higher education lobbyists remain skeptical a deal is possible this year and have begun thinking about how to get the wish list they had for the reauthorization bill included in other bills, including future stimulus packages.

In addition, a spokeswoman for Murray didn’t respond when asked if she agreed with the characterization that the sides were “dang close.” Also remaining is a key holdup over the controversial Title IX regulation U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is expected to issue any day, changing how colleges and universities deal with allegations of sexual assault.

Saying that processes at institutions are skewed toward those making the allegations, the rule is expected to require, among other things, that the accused be able to cross-examine their accusers -- a change opponents say would have a chilling effect on victims from being able to come forward.

An aide to Murray had said around the time that Alexander and Murray spoke to the community college officials that the top Democrat on the committee continued to opposed the rule “and has made clear from the start of negotiations that any reauthorization of our country’s higher education laws must address the four key challenges of affordability, accountability, accessibility and campus safety.”

Murray likely would have to set aside trying to block the controversial Title IX issue in the bill to reach a deal. Republicans are continuing to insist on more due process for the accused.

“You can’t kind of have due process,” the Republican aide said.

Still, Murray could decide to make a deal because Alexander’s retirement would make it more difficult to reach an agreement next year.

However, at best, lobbyists think the chances of getting policies into a reauthorization bill are uncertain.

"Right now, the priority for Congress is dealing with the coronavirus," said Shiwali Patel, who heads federal and state policy and advocacy involving campus safety for the National Women’s Law Center.

The center and others opposing the pending Title IX rule had been hoping to have other policies included in the reauthorization bill, including a requirement that institutions conduct campus climate surveys to assess their campuses’ safety from sexual harassment and abuse, as well as assessing the effectiveness of their policies.

But for now, she said the groups are focused on asking DeVos not to issue the rule at a time of severe upheaval for colleges and students. If she issues the rule anyway, they would look at other avenues for Congress to respond, Patel said, including a House bill that would prevent it from being implemented.

Hartle said congressional staff who are working on coronavirus relief packages have been clear that they’re focused now on emergency help.

But eventually Congress is expected to begin looking forward and to work on a stimulus bill focused on economic recovery.

“If we are eventually looking at an infrastructure bill to stimulate the economy, that involves policy as well as funding -- and it seems possible that is where we could see HEA policy conversations occur,” said Beth Stein, senior adviser at the Institute for College Access & Success and a former longtime Senate aide.

Advocacy groups like TICAS had hoped to include in a reauthorization bill measures like the closing of the so-called 90-10 loophole, which they say incentivizes for-profit colleges to recruit veterans of the U.S. military.

Stein worries that as many unemployed people are considering going back to college for more training, more aggressive recruiting by for-profit institutions will follow, particularly recruiting of members of the military.

Other issues have also become more important during the pandemic, Stein said, including "protecting students from sudden school closures, making sure the [Education] Department is able to accurately assess which schools are the most at risk of closing, and making sure that there is sufficient transparency about the emergency transition to online learning."

Another issue that seems even more important than even a couple of months ago, said Clare McCann, deputy director for federal higher education policy at the center-left group New America, is increasing the size of need-based Pell Grants, as more people look to go back to college during the recession.

"Since HEA is more important than ever now, heading into a recession, I'm still hopeful that lawmakers will find the time before the end of the year to pass important legislative changes," McCann said in an email. But, she acknowledged, “it's safe to say that every day Congress is working on COVID-19 relief is a day less they have to work on HEA negotiations.”

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'We need fun more than ever': Digital humanities meets the Baby-Sitters Club books

Mié, 04/15/2020 - 00:00

Meet The Data-Sitters Club, a group of scholars who’ve come together to do computational text analysis of the enormously popular children’s book series they grew up reading: Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters Club, published in the 1980s and 1990s about a group of middle school girls in a fictional suburban Connecticut town who formed a successful babysitting business.

Quinn Dombrowski is the Kristy Thomas of the group -- Kristy, for those not already in the know, being the character who conceived the Baby-Sitters Club, or BSC, and served as the club’s president. Dombrowski, an academic technology specialist at Stanford University’s Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages, identifies as a Kristy, short in stature and long in leadership ability, except she lacks Kristy’s athletic skills. “Somewhat paradoxically, I’m the world’s least athletic Kristy,” she said. “I am short, and I take charge, but I only run if chased and I’m terrified of spheres of all sorts.” (She would not have distinguished herself as a player on Kristy’s Krushers, the children’s softball team Kristy coached. Or maybe she would have fit right in, given the Krushers' less-than-formidable athletic reputation.)

In any case, Dombrowski came up with the idea for applying computational text analysis techniques to the BSC corpus. There are more than 200 BSC books and more than 176 million copies in print, and the series has spawned a movie, an ongoing graphic novel series and a forthcoming Netflix show.

“We’re thinking about what sorts of questions we could ask of all these books and analyze them in a way that would have been over our heads when we were reading them but can get to interesting questions about the cultural context in which the books were written, about the way gender roles were portrayed, the way race was portrayed,” Dombrowski said. Computational text analysis techniques make it possible, for example, to easily count the number of times “black” and “white” are mentioned in the same sentence, as in “Jessi is black and Mal is white,” a formulaic version of a sentence that frequently appeared in the books to describe the BSC’s two youngest members and best friends.

“We’ve got a whole list of questions,” Dombrowski said. “For instance, what kind of terminology around race is used? Is there a change over time? Do they use 'African American' versus 'black' for Jessi? How is religion treated in the book? To what extent is [the character] Abby treated as an other because of her Jewishness? Looking at Emily Michelle, Kristy’s adopted sister from Vietnam, how her race is portrayed, how adoption is portrayed.”

Other questions have to do with the language and stylistics of the books.

Dombrowski noted that most of the books were written by ghostwriters. "If you look at Ann M. Martin’s Kristy, is [she] the same Kristy as one of the other authors’ Kristy, or are there quirks in her use of language that are distinctive to one particular ghostwriter or another?” Dombrowski asked.

Dombrowski and her fellow "DSC" members are writing up their processes and their findings in blog posts that are intended to be colloquial behind-the-scene guides to doing digital humanities and computational text analysis, sprinkled with lots of inside references to delight BSC readers. For example, a newly published blog post authored by Anouk Lang, a senior lecturer in English literature at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, walks readers through the use of a particular software, AntConc, to show how it can be used to investigate patterns in the way that language is used across texts. Lang specifically looked at the use of hedging language by the various characters to cushion negative judgments, as in when a character says another looks “a little confused.”

“We see this project as an act of feminist pedagogy,” Dombrowski said. “A lot of computational text analysis is done in labs and led by faculty members who train graduate students in these closed systems, but what if we could make some of that knowledge about how you go about doing this accessible to anyone who is interested?”

“A lot of times digital humanities text analysis is very male-centric,” added Katherine Bowers, a DSC member and an assistant professor of Slavic studies at the University of British Columbia. “I really like the way this is centered on the female experience and the way that it’s a feminist collective doing the analysis.”

Maria Sachiko Cecire, an associate professor of literature and director of the Center for Experimental Humanities at Bard College in New York -- and a children’s literature specialist -- said she is interested in models of American girlhood in the books and how they connect to models of womanhood -- or businesswomanhood specifically.

“I find it especially interesting that they start a company together,” Cecire said. “What does it mean to have a group of friends who are organized around a business, a business that has such gendered implications, but at the same time they’re becoming financially independent to a certain extent, or at least financially having some flexibility, or taking on more leadership roles because they had that business.”

DSC member Roopika Risam, an associate professor of secondary and higher education and English at Salem State University in Massachusetts, said young adult book series such as the BSC play an important role in the development of literacy.

“They also play a very important role in the context of socialization and how the young people reading these books are instructed on how do you be a good citizen,” she said.

Lee Skallerup Bessette, a learning design specialist at Georgetown University and an expert on literature in translation (and a blogger for Inside Higher Ed), joined the DSC with a focus on analyzing the French-language translations: the books were translated into French at least three times, in Belgium, France and Quebec.

“This is a great example of something that most people don’t take seriously but could probably tell us more about how culture circulates than looking at how quote unquote great literature circulates,” she said.

Bessette added that the seriousness with which young girls took the BSC series is reason enough to take the books seriously as scholars.

“Rarely is girl culture, for lack of a better term, taken seriously,” Bessette said. “It provides a valuable window and insight into the values of the time and the tastes of the time and into the cultural messages we were receiving that for better or worse helped shape who we are today. These are really important questions that have often been ignored because they aren’t taken seriously -- ‘That’s just girl culture or frivolous or less than.’ -- It’s really empowering for me, anyway, to be able to say, ‘Yes, what we read and what we consumed has value. And it’s worthy of study because it was so important to us.’”

That’s not to say that it isn’t fun to go back to revisit the books as adults and to cringe at the fashion, pleated jeans and all, Bessette added. Let’s just say not everyone can be Claudia Kishi, the character noted for her outrageously fabulous fashion sense.

“I’m a big proponent of fun,” says Dombrowski, who also has been repurposing BSC covers as COVID-19 public health announcements and posting them on social media. For example, in a play on the title of Book No. 26, Claudia and the Sad Good-Bye, about the death of Claudia's beloved grandmother Mimi, Dombrowski reimagined one cover as “Talk some sense into your (grand)parents if they want to go out: No saying sad good-byes because they didn’t think of themselves as old or vulnerable.”

The cover of Book No. 131, The Fire at Mary Anne’s House, became “Mary Anne’s laptop overheated while she was on Zoom: Be careful how many applications and tabs you have open when you're using Zoom, especially with your laptop plugged in and video on.”

“We need fun more than ever right now,” Dombrowski said.

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Pay and seniority gaps persist for women and minority administrators in higher education

Mié, 04/15/2020 - 00:00

While the number of women and minority administrators is climbing, they still face significant pay and seniority disparities, especially within executive leadership roles, a new report shows.

The report, based on a survey of 1,160 institutions conducted by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, takes a look at the hiring pipelines for three key administrative positions: presidents and CEOs, provosts and chief academic officers, and chief human resources officers.

Nearly two-thirds of presidents and CEOs were hired from an outside higher education institution, while the remaining third were promoted from within a college, the report found. A quarter of presidents and CEOs held the same title prior to their current position, 20 percent were formerly provosts and 13 percent were deans.

Women's representation in college administrations is growing. More than half of administrators are women, according to the report. But they remain underrepresented at the top of the organizational chart -- they hold less than 40 percent of executive leadership roles.

“If you look at administrators as a whole, it really does look like women have closed the leadership gap,” said Jackie Bichsel, director of research at CUPA-HR. “But if you look at the specific positions they occupy, they occupy the lowest-paid administrative positions and the least-senior administrative positions.”

The seniority gap is greater for people of color. More than 80 percent of administrators are white, according to the report, and people of color make up only 13 percent of top executive officers. While the number of minority administrators increased over the past year, the number of minority executive officers remained flat.

Rod McDavis, managing principal at AGB Search, expects this to change. He pointed to the growing number of women and people of color in doctorate programs and faculty roles.

"Those tend to be the grounds [from] which we select our future leaders in higher education," he said.

McDavis also noted a 2017 study by the American Council on Education that showed 54 percent of college presidents planned to leave their posts within five years. With two years of potential departures left, McDavis thinks incoming college leaders will be more diverse.

“We have a couple more years before we see a significant changing of the guard at the presidential level,” he said. “I am confident that those positions will be taken by women and people of color as we go forward.”

Pay disparities remain. Women are paid less than men in nearly all administrative positions, as are people of color.

"That pay gap is as bad for administrators as it is in non-higher ed sectors, and I just think that's a crime, really," Bichsel said. "Women will not be hired in top administrative positions unless they're valued for their leadership, and being paid 83 cents to 89 cents on the dollar that white men are paid -- that's not being valued for your leadership."

The novel coronavirus outbreak presents many challenges to higher education, and Bichsel acknowledged that the positive trends identified in the report may be impacted by a potential recession.

“If history tells us anything, it’s that these pay gaps are just going to get worse, and that representation is going to get worse,” Bichsel said. “What we know from previous research is that when there’s a recession … women and minorities are slammed the hardest. They’re even less likely to get a new job, they’re less likely to get promoted and they’re less likely to get raises.”

McDavis disagreed.

“I don’t think we’re going to go backwards on our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education,” he said.

Bichsel encouraged higher education institutions to see women leaders as an advantage.

“If you take a look at women leaders in various countries, they’ve been the most proactive in dealing with this crisis and reducing its toll, so you would hope that other businesses and higher education would take a lesson from that,” she said.

Above all, commitments to diverse hiring and inclusion should not be swept aside during crisis management, she said.

“They should keep their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion front of mind,” Bichsel said. “Use [the outbreak] as an opportunity to expand on those commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion instead of making them the casualties of what is sure to be one of the worst recessions that higher ed’s ever seen.”

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Roundup: More federal funds, DACA questions and tiny paintings

Mié, 04/15/2020 - 00:00

I'm going to start off hump day with some bad news.

Well, sort of bad. In some areas of the country -- Virginia, in this example -- epidemiology models are finding that social distancing measures are working. But the problem isn't solved. Some show that social distancing is merely delaying potential hospital surges. Some experts are saying that life may not return to complete normalcy until we have a vaccine.

Don't panic! Here are some palate cleansers.

Martha Stewart has been hitting the sauce a little hard, apparently.

Here are some tiny paintings to calm you down.

If you're looking for a way to help, the National Institutes of Health needs volunteers to do a simple pinprick test at home.

Hopefully you feel a bit better now.

Let’s get to the news.

An analysis from Moody's Investors Service found that many states are already making budget cuts. Nearly half of states have holes of at least 10 percent, which doesn't bode well for higher ed.

On a positive note, the Education Department plans to quickly provide $3 billion to state governors in federal education block grants. The grants were authorized by the coronavirus stimulus bill and can be spent on K-12 and postsecondary education.

Parents of prospective college students are worried, according to a new study. Some say they aren't getting enough information about what colleges are doing to make the fall semester safe, and others want their children to stay closer to home.

The University of Oklahoma is considering all its options, including keeping instruction remote through the fall and even next spring.

The University of Cincinnati is already making some tough decisions. It cut its men's soccer program Tuesday.

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

Lilah Burke reported on whether students who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program can qualify for funding from the federal stimulus bill from their institutions.

Many colleges are instituting hiring freezes, but there's one position they can't be without: a president. Emma Whitford has the story on what institutions are doing to find a leader during a pandemic.

College students are more interconnected than previously thought, researchers found. If campuses were to reopen too early, the coronavirus could spread more quickly, Elizabeth Redden writes.

How do you teach students how to carve ice through a screen? Colleen Flaherty talked with faculty members who teach labs and hands-on subjects to see how they're faring with remote learning.

News From Elsewhere

Animals used in lab work are being euthanized as labs close down, sparking outrage from animal rights groups, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

Keep track of the latest state budget news, and how that affects higher ed, with this handy tool from Open Campus.

The Atlantic takes a depressing look at how this pandemic will affect younger generations for years to come.

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.

Some students are demanding partial tuition refunds after being disappointed by their newly online education. This short Twitter thread delves into why online education isn't really cheaper than face-to-face instruction.

An international education expert muses on what the future of global education could look like after the pandemic.

Higher ed experts argue for the need to step up oversight of for-profit colleges while online education is the only option for students in the Hechinger Report.

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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Teaching lab sciences and the fine arts during COVID-19

Mar, 04/14/2020 - 00:00

Line by line and curve by curve, Michael McGreal recently transformed a block of ice in his backyard into a swordfish. He drew a small, socially distanced crowd as he went: the buzz of his chain saw and the spectacle of ice carving during a pandemic caught the attention of some passersby.

McGreal was happy to provide distraction and a bit of beauty in a strange time. But this was about work. The chair of culinary arts at Joliet Junior College near Chicago was taping himself for an upcoming meeting of his ice-carving class. Typically, he makes swordfish live on campus in front of students, who then chisel away at their own blocks of ice with power tools.

But this is the COVID-19 era, in which instructors who teach fundamentally hands-on courses across fields are finding ways to make remote learning work.

“It’s not as difficult a transition as I expected,” said McGreal. “The labor part of it is a lot,” he admitted, “setting up our homes to do cooking videos live and taping them. And a lot of us have children at home now.”

At the same time, McGreal continued, “it’s an exciting chance for us to do some things for an online format that will make our face-to-face classes better than ever before.”

Take ice carving. McGreal plans to save the videos he’s made of fish and swan carvings for his students this semester and share them with his classes going forward. That way, he said, students can watch the videos in advance of class and be more prepared to attempt their own sculptures when they meet.

There’s something intimate and effective about asking students to watch their instructors cook and bake in their own home kitchens, McGreal said, even if they’re not cooking on their own now. (The department discussed asking students to cook along via Zoom but decided it was unwise to ask students to pay and even shop for ingredients. Still, many students stuck at home have been cooking on their own and sharing photos with their instructors and peers on chat boards.)

“They’re coming into our worlds now instead of a steel, sterile classroom, and it makes you feel more comfortable,” McGreal said. “Students seem to be loving it.”

McGreal's students are in the hospitality business, after all, he added.

Comfortable doesn’t mean sustainable, however. McGreal said his department’s mostly synchronous cooking sessions, which are later posted to YouTube for students who can’t watch live, are working because students spent at least eight weeks on campus prior to going remote. During that time they learned fundamental techniques in cooking, baking and carving, hands-on. Most of what they’re learning about now, by watching their instructors cook, is the sophisticated application of those skills. It’s hard to imagine that this Food Network-inspired approach to culinary education could work long-term without that kind of introduction, he said.

Remote STEM

Michelle Stocker, assistant professor of geobiology at Virginia Tech, agreed that “for this semester we can make it work. I wouldn’t necessarily say we like doing this at all, though.”

Aided by the many scholars of anatomy who have rushed to share 3-D mesh and other kinds of skeletal images online over the last six weeks on such websites as MorphoSource and Sketchfab, Stocker has been able to continue teaching a lab course on vertebrate morphology with relative ease. Even so, one graduate student in the mixed-level class already asked to sit it on it the next time Stocker teaches it, for the authentic experience. Her answer? Of course.

The upper-level course is designed to be challenging and extremely hands-on, with students handling skeletal materials for 2.5 hours at a time. Now students examine specimens online in Zoom sessions. Stocker, who also took physical specimens home with her, sometimes logs in on a second account to magnify them with her cellphone camera. Because Stocker’s students, like McGreal’s, spent weeks on campus before going remote, they remember these specimens -- down to the way they smell.

Even so, students can’t interact with the materials as they can in the lab. So Stocker asks them to interact with each other more. Students are encouraged to virtually share bones they found on COVID-19-safe walks in the woods, for example, and the class works to identify the animal and what might have happened to it.

This is also a way to counter the Zoom fatigue that many professors report: teaching remotely, it seems, feels more tiring than teaching in person, because it’s hard to gauge student reactions.

“Talking to yourself for a long time can be super boring,” Stocker laughed.

Julia Svoboda Gouvea, assistant professor of science education at Tufts University, coincidentally taught a computation-based module on the flu in her organisms and populations lab at the beginning of the semester. The goals of the project were to track the flu season on the genetic sequencing database Nextstrain and ultimately recommend a course of action to the World Health Organization for next year’s flu season. But students became more and more engaged in tracking COVID-19 as the weeks wore on.

“They could see how the transmission process was happening” via the genomic sequencing data on Nextstrain, Gouvea said.

Students had time to move on to another design-your-own-experiment unit involving the egg-laying behaviors of bean beetles before the campus closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

By now, Gouvea said, “there are a bunch of beetles hanging out in the lab that we were never able to quantify. And students were designing these experiments knowing that they were never going to see the results, so that kind of undercut the authenticity of the activity.”

Presently, students are working remotely on a unit involving an at-times controversial topic of plant communication. Gouvea converted this final section of the course into a literature-heavy one, in which students read research papers and use a collaborative commenting tool to discuss them. Students will write their own responses to the literature by the end of the term.

Some of the papers Gouvea found for this unit are inspiring her to think ahead to other possible iterations of the course. A research area about how plants communicate through volatile chemicals and their roots has Gouvea thinking that she might ask future students to buy relatively inexpensive sensors to detect volatile chemicals on outdoor plants, or those in their own homes.

Doing lab science remotely is more than possible, Gouvea said. Still, she worried about capturing what is arguably the most important part of lab work: struggle.

“The labs that I design are very discretion-based,” she said. “They’re hard for students and we use real data, not a pretend lab activity.” Students are often confused, in a good way, for a portion of the lab, as they ask questions and move through challenges, Gouvea said. She asked if that process can be sustained online.

To teach lab work remotely from the outset, she continued, “You’re going to have tell students it’s OK not to understand this within the first five minutes of opening up a webpage.”

Simulations and Accreditation

Simulated lab technologies are already available and seeing increase used due to COVID-19. Labster, for example, donated $5 million worth of services to K-12 and college and university instructors affected by the disruption. Ten thousand instructors signed up. Program usage increased by 10 times in the last two weeks, and Labster today announced a new partnership with the California Community Colleges.

Co-founder Michael Bodekaer said the company’s mission is to engage students in science, in part through gamification of lab work, and to increase access. Many institutions lack top lab facilities, he said, and even campuses with the best equipment may bar students from using their high-end tools.

Labster’s modules, he said, “are like a flight simulator for pilots.” The purpose is not to replace labs entirely, but to keep students interested in and prepared enough for science to excel when they get there.

Ed tech has its skeptics, and there are certainly some things it can’t teach. Gouvea’s colleague at Tufts, Lauren Crowe, a lecturer in biology, for one, said remote instruction prevents her from teaching her students essential fine motor skills, like using a micropipette.

Labster brings its own data to that fight, including an article in Nature finding a twofold improvement in students’ learning outcomes after using gamified simulations. To Gouvea’s point about struggle, Labster's virtual guides sometimes allow students to fail at first.

“There are many ways you can do this, and each teacher has their own preferences, like blended learning and teachers providing courses as homework,” Bodekaer said.

Accreditation is another piece of the puzzle. How do outside bodies responsible for assuring quality in hands-on programs adapt to the moment?

ABET, which accredits thousand of programs in the applied and natural sciences, computing, and engineering, has advised institutions not to alert it to short-term adaptations due to the coronavirus. Permanent changes will need to be flagged, however.

Joseph L. Sussman, chief accreditation officer at the organization, said, “We fully understand that institutions and programs are having to make accommodations to safeguard their communities and contribute to the containment of the virus.”

Most important “is a program’s ongoing ability, regardless of delivery method, to demonstrate that it is enabling the achievement of the student outcomes associated with program.”

Sussman added, “ABET accreditation will not be a barrier to success.”

The Arts Online

In addition to many colleagues in the sciences and job training programs, professors of the fine arts are adapting deeply physical work for a whole new world.

Douglas Russell, a professor of drawing at the University of Wyoming, sent an announcement to his drawing students last month about new modules he set up for the course. There is a recommended order to moving through them, but students may proceed in any order, at their own pace. Everything is due at the end of the semester. The typical module includes an assignment, a discussion component, instructional videos and images to view, plus slides.

Russell got organized fast in order to offer asynchronous instruction to students who are struggling in their own ways with the realties of COVID-19. Much of his real-time work now is providing detailed digital feedback to students as they proceed. So far, he said, students seem “fairly upbeat.” Some have asked to take the class on a pass/fail basis, to which Russell agreed. He plans on sending out a reminder next week, telling students not to wait until the end of the class to get their work done.

If time management is a challenge for students, the hardest part of teaching is “the lack of one-on-one, face-to-face instruction that automatically occurs in a normal classroom,” Russell said. There is an “unfolding of back-and-forth” teaching that happens with 20 students in a room all working on the same project, he said.

The “materiality” of the class also is lacking.

“I can't show the students how to do something by drawing on their actual drawing,” Russell said. “I can, of course, film a video, or digitally draw on their drawing photo. But this is not the same at all. And something is definitely lost in the process.”

Clara Lieu, an adjunct instruct of art at Rhode Island College of Design, is teaching a figure-drawing course for illustration this semester. It is, of course, challenging, as there are no live models in the remote format and Lieu does Zoom calls with small groups of students, based on their availability. Some are as far away as Asia, so timing is a challenge.

“Online teaching is definitely more work than teaching in person,” as it requires more mental effort and even more preparation, she said. “What I find is that in person, you can be way more flexible and spontaneous.”

Still, Lieu knows that remote art instruction can be done. She’s been teaching art online for several years at the website Art Prof. Critiques can be purchased, but instructional videos and tips on the site and YouTube are free.

Particularly relevant for COVID-19 is Lieu’s video and lengthy post on five mistakes to avoid while teaching online. Lieu recommends putting yourself on video for you students, even if you’re camera-shy, to build presence. Set reminders and time-specific deadlines, use platforms your students already use (Lieu loves YouTube), offer students different modes of communication with you, and be flexible and accept substitutions. Lieu also advocated distilling the essential points of any lecture down to their essence. Online attention spans are low, she said.

Just as a science instructor can’t teach a student to hold a micropipette online, Lieu said she can’t teach students in a print-making class precisely how to hold their tools.

“‘No, don’t do it that way.’ That’s such a big part of teaching” that's harder now, Lieu half joked.

Instructional videos generated as part of remote teaching do prove to be effective tutorials for students, however, Lieu said, especially in a field such as art, where students tend to be self-motivated. They spend many hours working on projects on their own time even in a typical semester, she said.

Andrew Schulz, dean of the University of Arizona’s College of Fine Arts, said that “historically, the visual arts have been a solitary practice, so in some regard, it’s easier to reproduce this in a remote teaching context.”

Echoing Lieu, however, Schulz said doing so becomes more difficult with advancing technology, such as laser cutting, “which is like lab equipment.”

Exhibitions Canceled -- and What’s Ahead

Schulz also said the arts are meant to be shared, in visual art shows, music and dance performances, and more. Arizona quickly moved to cancel all its in-person events due to COVID-19 but has since found ways to move some of them online, including the annual Bachelor of Fine Arts Exhibition.

Schulz said all the cancellations are hardest on students who are finishing their degrees, as seniors and graduate students “were looking forward to public presentation and capstone experiences.”

Performance cancellations have affected many programs across institutions. Melissa Heller, costume shop manager and design instructor at Pacific University, for instance, said her class is typically “a lot of learn as you go during each of the productions.” There is no show to work on this semester, of course, so Heller’s one and only current student is writing a research paper on a topic of her choice. She’ll submit it at the end of the term.

As in the sciences, accreditation by outside bodies is a reality for many arts programs. Schulz said accreditors have, by and large, been accommodating in these usual circumstances.

In addition to day-to-day adjustments, Schulz was already looking ahead, to how COVID-19 will impact arts education as a whole.

“Artists are resilient, innovative and imaginative, and we’ll figure it out,” he said. “It might look different than we’re used to -- the whole landscape is going to look different.”

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Coronavirus outbreak adds urgency to searches for new college presidents

Mar, 04/14/2020 - 00:00

Asked when he decided to delay his retirement, the California State University system's chancellor laughed.

“Oh, about 4 a.m.,” he joked.

Timothy White had been thinking about postponing his retirement from leading the Cal State system for a while. He'd originally planned to exit on July 4, dubbing it his own independence day.

Then, university system trips to Asia were canceled early in the year as the new coronavirus outbreak raged in China. In February, shortly after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Washington State, he knew the virus had the potential to spread throughout the United States and to the California State universities he oversees.

“The pandemic was on my mind, and as I watched it come … I thought about why I had thought it was a good time to retire,” White said. He is proud of rising student success metrics over the eight years he's led Cal State. With the university system headed in the right direction, he thought it was time to turn it over to a successor.

But as colleges across the country began to close their campuses, White decided it was the wrong time for a leadership change.

For college leaders, the coronavirus outbreak has been a crash course in crisis management. Closing campuses to protect students and staff has forced a migration to online learning for which many colleges were underprepared. Room and board refunds and other credits to students are creating holes in operating budgets. The outbreak’s toll on the market has led to diminished endowment values and cautious donors.

The boards of several colleges with retiring presidents are asking them to stay on through the outbreak.

Alongside White, Leroy Morishita, president of California State East Bay, postponed his retirement through the end of December. Dianne Harrison, president of California State Northridge, will also stay on through the fall of 2020. Morningside College president John Reynders and Kentucky Community and Technical College System president Jay Box announced retirement delays to help their respective institutions weather the outbreak.

The logistics of hiring under current conditions can be tricky. Until recently, there had been a search ongoing for White's replacement.

“The original schedule was to bring finalists in front of the Board of Trustees in March,” White said. “Because of the circumstances, we chose to put that search process on hold.”

Colleges that are currently operating under interim leaders are continuing their searches virtually with a greater sense of urgency, according to Jan Greenwood, partner and president at the search firm Greenwood/Asher & Associates.

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale plans to start two-day virtual interviews with the three finalists for chancellor on Thursday. The University of Wisconsin system has also scheduled videoconference interviews with semifinalists for system president in mid-April.

Asked whether the online interview model presents challenges for the search committee, UW spokesperson Mark Pitsch said in an email that “our process has yet to be inhibited; the committee is just doing it differently.”

But it can be difficult to translate personalities over video calls, said Rod Davis, managing principal at AGB Search.

“How do you take that face-to-face situation and model that through the means of Zoom or some virtual technology so you can really get a good feel for those personality traits that you get face-to-face?” he said.

Some colleges have informed candidates that they are the top choice for jobs, but they are waiting to present a final offer until the candidates are able to travel to campus, according to both Greenwood and Davis.

“One end of the continuum is that universities are continuing the searches and deciding to hire without ever meeting in person the person they are hiring,” Greenwood said. Others are “doing on-site interviews with technology, and then letting them know that they will be getting an offer whenever they are able to visit campus.”

The University of Central Florida recently completed its search for a new president after moving the process online in March. Reflecting on the search, Beverly Seay, Board of Trustees chair and chair of the search committee, found that the online interview process actually yielded more community engagement.

“We had over 1,000 [people] viewing in the open forums,” she said. “Most of us had read through all of the 500 responses to the candidates, so we got a lot more feedback than we normally would have received.”

The 1,000-plus view count was a big improvement from the 50 to 60 people who usually attend the open candidate forums, according to William Self, search committee member and Faculty Senate chair.

“I think because people were not there, they were able to see more and they were able to spend more time online to listen to the candidates,” he said.

The coronavirus outbreak didn’t influence what the university was looking for in a president, Seay said.

Davis noted that the institutions his firm is working with have adjusted their criteria in two ways. The first is that they want to know a candidate can handle crisis management.

“What have they done on their own campus in regards to the coronavirus, how have they handled a crisis in their leadership roles?” he said. Second, they’re looking for “presidents that have some knowledge of online education.”

Hiring a new president sometimes means another college will lose its own. While Davis doesn’t believe that the candidate pool will suffer as a result of the coronavirus, sitting presidents may have second thoughts about applying.

"I think there is a sense of loyalty," Davis said. "People don't want to leave in the middle of a crisis."

Greg Fenves, president of the University of Texas at Austin, announced last week that he would leave for Emory University June 30. In his message to the UT Austin community, he expressed similar feelings.

"The timing of this news in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is not what I had expected or wanted," he wrote. "Our dedicated faculty and staff have striven to make the spring 2020 semester meaningful for our students. I want you to understand that I remain singularly focused on continuing that work, completing the semester and getting our community back to normal before my presidency ends on June 30.”

Even if candidate pools were to shrink because sitting presidents don't want to leave jobs in the midst of a crisis, colleges and universities will still be able to hire from within. Consider, for example, the University of Missouri at St. Louis. It named Kristin Sobolik permanent chancellor last week after she'd been filling the roles of interim chancellor, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost.

Many qualified candidates are internal.

“I think we’re seeing institutions that are giving their internal candidates a very serious look,” Davis said.

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Stimulus benefits unclear for DACA students

Mar, 04/14/2020 - 00:00

College students who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children may or may not be eligible to receive federal aid from their institutions through the latest coronavirus response bill, the CARES Act.

The stimulus, most well-known for its provision to give $1,200 to individual taxpayers, sets aside $14 billion for higher education. More than $6 billion of that money must go to students to defray any expenses they've suffered as a result of the disruption of campus operations due to the coronavirus, such as costs for childcare, technology or health care.

Guidance from the U.S. Department of Education gives wide latitude to colleges, allowing them to decide how to disperse the aid and to which students. The department encouraged institutions to decide a cap on their aid to individual students, but did not mandate it. It also encouraged institutions whose students have little financial need to give their allocation to others in their state or region.

But some in higher education have questioned whether the aid will be available to students who immigrated to the U.S. illegally as children, many of whom have received work authorization and relief from deportation from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Though the CARES Act does not specify that students must be eligible for federal financial aid (which DACA recipients are not), existing law signed in the 1990s specifies that those who immigrated illegally are ineligible for federal benefits.

David Bergeron, former acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education at the department and a current senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said existing provisions allow for short-term, noncash, in-kind disaster relief for noncitizens.

"We should be looking creatively to try to get to the people who are most impacted," he said.

Institutions might be able to contract with providers to directly secure childcare or technology for affected students, he said, instead of giving them a check.

Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government affairs at the American Council on Education, emphasized that the department should end any uncertainty by clarifying whether DACA students can receive stimulus funds.

"We absolutely hope that they're eligible," he said via email. “But given the uncertainty that surrounds this question, it’s important that the department provide clear guidance to campuses."

Alison Griffin, a former policy adviser for the U.S. House of Representatives' education committee, emphasized that recent laws and guidance don't define what a student is.

"That gives higher ed institutions a pretty fair amount of discretion or at least latitude to figure out who on their campus needs those emergency funds," she said, though she could not speak on specifics of older legislation.

Bergeron said that whether institutions are even aware of their students' immigration statuses could vary. He said he hopes colleges that have not looked into immigration statuses will reach out to students when the time comes to assess need.

The Education Department did not respond to requests for comment by Monday evening.

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Sociologists say their findings on student interconnectedness suggest caution needed in reopening

Mar, 04/14/2020 - 00:00

As colleges grapple with the question of whether and when it will be safe to resume in-person instruction, a newly published working paper analyzing course enrollment patterns at Cornell University found that nearly all students are connected via a shared classmate.

“Over a typical week, the average student will share classes with more than 500 different students,” one of the paper’s authors, Kim Weeden, said in a summary of the results on Twitter. “This number is higher for lower-division students, because they tend to take more large introductory courses. The average student can ‘reach’ only about 4 percent of other students by virtue of sharing a course together, but 87 percent of students can reach each other in two steps, via a shared classmate. By three steps, it’s 98 percent.”

Weeden and Benjamin Cornwell, both sociology professors at Cornell University, also found that a hybrid model in which large courses would be taught online and smaller ones would be taught via face-to-face instruction “would not appreciably reduce the interconnectedness of students in the full course enrollment network.” They found that even after eliminating the 126 classes that had 100 or more students from the analysis, "the campus-wide network remains highly connected."

"These results suggest caution in reopening colleges and universities for face-to-face instruction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic," Weeden and Cornwell wrote in their working paper.

Should universities resume face-to-face instruction in fall? Ben Cornwell and I posted a working paper with relevant evidence from @Cornell on the structure of enrollment networks that connect students and classes.

Summary in thread, preprint here: https://t.co/JQaudyAAoK
1/11 pic.twitter.com/3bwF3lJU65

— Kim Weeden (@WeedenKim) April 12, 2020

"We were sort of hoping that once you eliminated the 100 biggest courses on campus you might be able to able to disconnect this network: it didn’t work out that way," Weeden, the Jan Rock Zubrow ’77 Professor of the Social Sciences​ at Cornell, said in an interview.

"I think we were a little bit surprised about how tight the connections really are, what a small world it really is, and in particular that there are so many different paths between any two students. It's not just one student who is connecting any given pair of students. It's multiple ways that you can get to student A or student B. Even if they’re not taking a class together, they're likely taking it with a third person that they share in common. One of the lessons is that university administrators may need to think creatively about what’s going on in their local context. Our study was just Cornell, and all universities, even those of fairly similar size, are structured a little bit differently."

"How do we minimize the risk, recognizing first of all that courses are just one way that college students come in contact with each other, particularly on a residential campus?" Weeden said of questions faced by college administrators. "Are there alternative ways we can deliver high-quality content that isn't the standard face-to-face model but isn’t moving everything online, either? Could we put some classes online? Could we think about a block schedule where students take one course for three weeks at a time with the same students and move to another class after that? Are there ways that we can think about structuring some of our classes and still get some of the benefits of face-to-face instruction?"

The working paper, which is based on an analysis of spring 2015 undergraduate course enrollments at Cornell, has not yet been peer reviewed, though Weeden said she and Cornwell feel confident enough in the data and findings to post the paper on an open-science platform. She said as well that the network analysis methodology used in the study is fairly straightforward.

In their working paper, Weeden and Cornwell note limitations of the study, including the fact that the data are reflective of just one university and that "course enrollment networks do not capture the many ways that students are connected outside of the classroom through advisors, friends, parties, athletics and other extra-curricular activities, or living situations."

“At the same time, course enrollment networks may overstate the density of the networks through which a virus is likely to be transmitted,” Weeden and Cornwell wrote. “Most obviously, two students who are co-enrolled in a large lecture course may never come in close physical proximity to each other. Similarly, classes, particularly large ones, rarely achieve full attendance. Future work should consider factors such as physical space within a classroom or attendance rates to fine-tune estimates of how course enrollment networks may pattern the diffusion of a virus, a rumor, an idea, or anything else that can be transmitted through direct or indirect social contact on a college campus.”

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Roundup: Delays, state help and a special wine package

Mar, 04/14/2020 - 00:00

We're almost halfway through April.

This weekend certainly didn't feel like a holiday weekend to me, but I did enjoy seeing photos of socially distant egg hunts on social media. I think we're all dreaming of the parties we plan to throw when this is all over.

I hope you enjoyed the Q&A feature yesterday. If you have someone in mind who would make a good feature, feel free to email the suggestion to madeline.stamour@insidehighered.com. (Also feel free to send pictures and fun facts about your pets. Perhaps they'll be featured, too!)

Let's keep this morning light with some palate cleansers.

While I am insanely jealous of anyone with their own space, I still like to look at photos of people's homes. The Cut asked Broadway stars to take self-portraits wherever they're quarantining as a fun feature, making me both happy and mad.

A small grocer here in D.C. has a special wine package based on -- wait for it -- the Tiger King documentary. I don't like the types of wine included in the package, but I'm still strongly considering buying it.

Here's something to look forward to: the president of the University of Richmond will be giving a cello concert, virtually, on Friday.

On to the news.

The governors of Maryland and New York are asking the federal government to provide $500 billion to states to help stabilize budgets during this crisis.

Boston University is preparing to possibly delay the start of the fall term to January 2021 in light of the pandemic.

Trustees at Indiana University approved a plan for the institution to borrow up to $1 billion, if needed, to mitigate costs from COVID-19.

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

Lilah Burke took a look at what switching to pass/fail for this semester means for students trying to get into medical school or transfer from a two-year to a four-year institution.

Yield and admit rates are not likely to follow predictable patterns for many institutions during this time, Scott Jaschik reports.

Kery Murakami writes about how state budget cuts have already started, and how that's impacting higher ed.

Students are organizing to demand refunds after feeling shortchanged by the switch to remote learning, Greta Anderson reports.

News From Elsewhere

A newsletter from Open Campus covers one student's journey back home, and back to college through remote learning.

Progress Report wrote about the CARES Act and what it means for children and students, especially for those who are Latinx.

The coronavirus pandemic might cause major academic regression, USA Today 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.

The president of Macalester College ponders the post-pandemic world in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Higher ed's civic responsibility to help with the U.S. Census count is more important than ever, according to the president of James Madison University

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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Public colleges face looming financial blow from state budget cuts

Lun, 04/13/2020 - 00:00

Financial pain from the coronavirus pandemic is hitting the nation’s colleges and universities hard, and Northwest Missouri State University is no exception.

John Jasinski, president of the four-year institution, which enrolls more than 7,000 students and is located 100 miles north of Kansas City, Mo., has been dealing with serious challenges the crisis brought to the university’s budget.

Jasinski said he’s put off spending money where he can, on professional development, upgrading educational software and other areas, as the crisis brings unexpected costs such as the more than $4 million the public university is spending to refund students' room and board fees after classes were moved online.

But two weeks ago​ -- in what could be a harbinger of the pain coming soon to other universities around the country -- things got even worse.

Mike Parsons, the state's Republican governor, who is dealing with his own revenue problems as businesses shutter and unemployment skyrockets, announced $180 million in cuts in the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Nearly half of that amount ($76.3 million) is being cut from the state contribution to community and four-year colleges.

Northwest Missouri State is losing $2.5 million, or nearly 9 percent of its annual revenue, with the cut heaped on top of struggles it already faces.

The university got some help late last week when it learned that its share of the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus will be $4.8 million. But only half of that amount will help the university’s budget, because the stimulus required that at least half be spent on emergency grants for students.

The $2.4 million left over won't even cover the cost of refunding room and board, much less other hits the university is taking.

And the state is almost certain to cut more next year.

“News of a withhold is never good, but certainly the timing … came at a very difficult time,” Jasinski said. He added that the university may have to spend less on help for first-generation students. “But we’re resilient and gritty.”

State Cuts Have Begun

Northwest Missouri State likely won't be an outlier in its financial pain, said Thomas Harnisch, vice president for government relations at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

“It could be a sign of things to come,” he said.

With uncertain prospects in Congress for even half the $500 billion the nation's governors say they need to stabilize budgets, many states face budget cuts. And they will look at slashing funds for public colleges.

"Higher education is often considered the balancing wheel of state budgets," said Harnisch. "And if history is any indication, higher education is going to be at the front lines of the economic fallout from coronavirus."

As Josh Goodman and Mark Robyn, senior officers with the Pew Charitable Trusts’ state fiscal health initiative, noted in a recent blog post, the pandemic comes at an awkward time, as some states have already written the next fiscal year’s budget or were in the middle of determining it. States generally base their budgets on revenue projections conducted in January or February. But the crisis has sent budget writers in state capitols scrambling to get a handle on just how much tax revenue they’ll lose, and how much they’ll have to cut.

And higher education is already taking hits from state cuts. Expecting deep losses in revenue, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy last month froze $920 million in state spending for the remainder of the state's budget year, which ends Sept. 30​, including $122 million for public colleges and universities. The cuts represent half the funding the colleges were supposed to get from the state in the next three months.

Rutgers University lost $73 million. The cut hurts, considering Rutgers will receive only $54 million from the federal stimulus package -- a figure a Rutgers spokeswoman called “woefully short.” Including the state cut, the university is slated to lose $200 million in just the next three months, including $50 million in room and board refunds, she said.

The university expects more state cuts in the next fiscal year.

Andrew Cuomo, New York's Democratic governor, had proposed increasing higher education spending by 3 percent earlier this year, including an expansion for the state’s free community college program. Now, the state is forecasting a drop in revenue this budget year, which started this month, according to Robert Mujica, New York's budget director. The state is working on announcing an initial $10 billion in budget cuts in the next few weeks, and could make more later in the year if the economy doesn’t improve.

“Everybody is going to be cut. How deeply is still to be determined,” said Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for the state budget office.

Without more federal aid for the state, the State University of New York system faces “potentially deep cuts to our academic programs and services,” Kristina Johnson, the system's chancellor, ​said in a statement.

On the other coast, a spokesman for the University of California system said it is hoping the state will be able to provide enough funding "to keep UC campuses operating at current service levels, especially due to the challenging economic conditions brought on by COVID-19." The system also is hoping the state will still make good on the $217.7 million increase the state's Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, proposed in January, before the epidemic worsened.

But Newsom said at a press conference two weeks ago, "The January budget is no longer operable … The world has radically changed since the January budget was proposed."

Widespread Financial Trouble

Other states are likely to be short on money as well.

Just last October, states seemed to be in pretty good fiscal shape, according to an annual assessment by Moody’s Analytics on whether states have enough cash on hand to weather a recession without having to raise taxes or cut spending.

Only 10 states had so little money banked that they were “significantly unprepared” for even a modest recession, Moody's said.

But on top of the closure of businesses as states and cities have adopted social distancing regulations, gas and oil prices have dropped, and tourism has plummeted, while other states have been hurt by a reduction in trade particularly with Asian countries, Sarah Crane, an economist for Moody's, said in an interview.

Crane was still crunching the numbers on an updated report the credit ratings firm is expected to issue this week.

But she said the new picture isn’t pretty.

The report will say almost twice as many states are now unprepared for even the best-case scenario, in which social distancing requirements will last until the middle of the year.

The 10 least-prepared states last fall will still be in the crosshairs during a recession: Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.

More than half the states are unprepared under a more severe scenario, said Crane, in which many businesses remain closed through the fall.

Higher Education on the Block

For a number of reasons, involving politics and the nuances of writing budgets, states that are forced to make cuts will look toward higher education.

“States don’t have a lot of control over what they can cut,” said Jeff Chapman, director of the state fiscal health project at the Pew Charitable Trust. “Where they cut ends up being a function of where they have less restrictions.”

K-12 funding in many states is protected by state constitutions. Programs like Medicaid receive matching funds from the federal government, so cutting there would mean losing federal dollars.

“The next biggest pot is higher education funding, and that’s the place states tend to go,” Chapman said.

Another factor that contributes to state slashing of support for higher education, said Liz McNichol, senior fellow at the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, is that lawmakers figure colleges can make up for the cuts by raising tuition.

But tuition increases stemming from state cuts during the last recession led to students being hobbled by more debt, as they took on a greater share of paying for higher education.

It was no surprise that Missouri looked to its community colleges and four-year institutions for so much of its budget cuts, said Paul Wagner, executive director of the state’s Council on Public Higher Education, an association made up of the presidents and chancellors of Missouri’s 13 public four-year institutions and the president of the University of Missouri system.

“Missouri has an unfortunate habit of turning to higher education when there are budget shortfalls,” said Wagner, former deputy commissioner at the Missouri Department of Higher Education and a former education budget and policy analyst for the State Senate.

In part, he said, that's because budget writers have assumed institutions can make up budget cuts by raising tuition.

“Cutting K-12 is very politically unpopular, of course,” and funding for those schools is being hit because the pandemic has forced the closure of the casinos that provide some state revenue.

Louisiana's economy was seen to be growing as recently as February, when John Bel Edwards, the state's Democratic governor, proposed increasing spending by $285 million this year. That included a $34 million boost for higher education institutions to help make up for cuts they suffered during the last recession, and another $6 million to expand the state’s scholarship program. Edwards also socked away hundreds of millions of dollars in a rainy-day fund.

While the state's reserves will help, they are the equivalent of just 3.7 percent of its revenues last year -- one of lowest ratios in the nation, according to Moody’s. In comparison, Wyoming’s reserve fund was the equivalent of 138 percent of its revenues, making it the best-prepared state in the nation for a recession.

As the state faces dropping oil prices, tourism and other hits, it’s unclear how much of a shortfall the state’s budget will have, said Steve Procopio, policy director of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.

“We don’t know what’s really happening with the virus,” he said. “We’re waiting to see which way it goes. We don’t know if we’re looking at a $200 million gap or a $2 billion gap.”

But he predicted the state’s colleges and universities will probably face at least some cuts.

At the least, “we will no doubt abandon all proposed budgetary increases in higher education, as well as in every other area of the budget that does not relate to the COVID response,” Jay Dardenne, commissioner of the Division of Administration, which manages the state’s financial operations, said in a statement.

The funding formula for K-12 education, unlike higher education, is set in the state’s constitution. “The lack of constitutional protection is the major reason for higher ed’s exposure to budget cuts,” Dardenne said.

In addition, some parts of the state government, including the Department of Natural Resources, are funded by fees that can’t be used for other things, Procopio said.

“Health care is very tough to cut because there’s a health-care crisis. There’s a belief you just can't touch health care right now in the middle of a pandemic,” he said. “Higher education, by math, becomes a better target. Not because you don’t like higher education, but if revenue is falling, what do you do?”

If this sounds familiar, it’s because states cut higher education deeply during the last recession.

According to a 2017 analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state funding for higher education hadn’t recovered from those reductions even a decade later.

When adjusted for inflation, funding by states for public two- and four-year colleges in 2017 was still $9 billion less than in 2008. Though states' revenues had returned to pre-recession levels, state spending per student was 16 percent lower than before.

The result was tuition at public four-year colleges across the nation rose by an average of $2,484, or 35 percent, between 2008 and 2017. It doubled in Louisiana and rose by more than 60 percent in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Hawaii.

Meanwhile, attention is turning to whether Congress will include additional aid for states and higher education in another stimulus bill.

Education advocates were disappointed by the $14 billion for higher education institutions in the last stimulus. A coalition of groups, including associations representing two- and four-year institutions, wrote Congress last week to say they needed an additional $46.6 billion to make up for costs like returning room and board and lost revenue from what the groups estimated would be a 15 percent decline in enrollment this fall.

Meanwhile, governors also have said the $150 billion in aid to states and local governments in the last stimulus package wasn’t enough to prevent large cuts. On Saturday, the National Governors Association wrote congressional leaders, saying, "in the absence of unrestricted fiscal support of at least $500 billion from the federal government, states will have to confront the prospect of significant reductions to critically important services all across this country, hampering public health, the economic recovery, and -- in turn -- our collective effort to get people back to work."

The group's chairman, Maryland governor Larry Hogan, said at a press conference last week that without more congressional aid, "There's going to be massive budget problems for every state in America." Last Friday Hogan froze his state's spending, except for coronavirus-related expenses and payroll, ​saying Maryland is facing a $2.8 billion budget shortfall.

However, Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate are deadlocked over the next package. Republicans want it to focus on providing $250 billion of aid to small businesses. But Democrats want to add $250 billion of aid for hospitals and state and local governments. Last Thursday, Senate Democrats blocked the Republican proposal. Then Republicans blocked the Democrats' proposal.

The Hill reported that Senate Republicans do not want to take up negotiations on the next package until next month. On Saturday, Politico reported that Republican leaders are vowing to keep opposing the Democrats' plan. “Republicans reject Democrats’ reckless threat to continue blocking job-saving funding unless we renegotiate unrelated programs which are not in similar peril,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a joint statement.​

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How will pass/fail affect students' future?

Lun, 04/13/2020 - 00:00

Many colleges and universities, after looking at the havoc the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked on student lives, have decided to offer a more forgiving grade structure. Binary grading schemes like pass/fail or satisfactory/unsatisfactory have been put in place at many institutions, sometimes after much back-and-forth. Some have made the change mandatory for all students, while others have simply expanded an existing option.

The idea behind a binary scheme during the pandemic is that it can lessen students' anxiety. It can shield those who have been enormously burdened from a fatal hit to their grade point average. Moving home, taking online classes, losing jobs or dealing with family health care can all have a profound effect on student performance.

But when a student is hoping to move on to graduate school, medical school or a four-year college, questions still abound about how a grade of "pass" is going to look to an admissions officer, or if community college courses will still transfer.

The answers aren't neat. Many institutions are altering their admissions criteria or practices. Some are trying to align with their peers. Others are going it alone.

Medical Schools

A few medical schools, which often have prerequisites for application, have given students some tricky choices. At the medical colleges of Harvard and Georgetown Universities, for example, admissions offices announced a new policy. When looking at spring 2020 grades, those colleges will now accept a "pass" for a prerequisite. But Georgetown has said that letter grades are highly encouraged if available. Harvard had similar language on its admissions site but has recently removed it. (For undergrads, Harvard has switched to mandatory binary grades, while Georgetown has moved to an optional three-tier system.)

Premed students at Duke University, which is defaulting to a binary scheme but giving the option of a letter grade, might have a tough choice to make then if they are applying to Georgetown. Taking things easy, taking a pass and using extra time to care for family or work, for example, might no longer be an safe option.

The medical school at Johns Hopkins University says it is still debating whether to accept online classes as prerequisites, as it traditionally has declined to. Prospective Hopkins students who were completing prerequisites this spring might be out of luck, or they might have to take them again.

The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers released guidance for institutions on how to implement and mark new grading schemes on transcripts, but the association recommends keeping things limited. Binary grades should only be used if instruction is terminated before learning goals are met. If instruction just moves online, AACRAO advises no transcript notations or changes in grading.

But the guidance also raises more questions. How to deal with athlete eligibility, scholarships or academic probation? Not all those questions have been answered.

Community College Transfers

For community college students hoping to transfer, the situation depends on the state.

The Virginia Community College System has also decided to switch to binary grades this semester, although students can still request a letter grade.

"There are equity concerns," said Joe DeFilippo, academic affairs director of the State Commission for Higher Education for Virginia. "We want to make sure that students experiencing this don't get penalized when they try to transfer to four-year institutions."

DeFilippo said that before this spring, only five out of the 14 public colleges in Virginia were willing to accept a pass equivalent for transfer credit. A community college student looking to transfer might have had to retake those courses.

Now, with SCHEV's encouragement, nearly all 14 have said that they will transfer credit for a pass, in any courses taken in spring 2020, so long as the grade equates to more than a C. (The one holdout, the University of Virginia, is still in discussions, DeFilippo said).

"I think the decisions we've been talking about have been good ones. Is it a guarantee that they're going to turn out to be the perfect ones? No," he said. "No one really knows all the right things to be doing in every aspect of dealing with this current situation. There are a lot of judgment calls being made and decisions being made to help the system move along as efficiently as possible."

In other states, the process is a bit less clear. The California Community Colleges, for example, is waiving the deadline for students to choose pass/fail grades. But the California State University system has said it will give out transfer credit for a pass grade only for general education requirements and major prerequisites. Others may require a letter grade for transfer credit. The University of California system chose instead to suspend its cap on pass/fail grades for transfer students.

Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, said that her understanding is that most four-year colleges are accepting pass/fail grades for the spring since every institution is affected. "We asked our institutions to be accepting but to make sure they have policies that explain their plan to do so," she said via email.

Graduate Schools

Only a few graduate schools have put out statements regarding admissions changes for the spring semester. UC Berkeley has said that it will make admissions decisions holistically, taking many pieces of an application into account.

"Such a review will take into account the significant disruptions of COVID-19 when reviewing students’ transcripts and other admissions materials from Spring 2020," the announcement said. "We understand that many institutions across the country instituted P/NP grading policies during that semester. Thus, we will not penalize students for the adoption of P/NP and other grading options during this unprecedented period, whether the choices were made by institutions or by individual students."

Cornell University and the University of Rochester have both announced that they would be taking newly implemented grading structures into account when making decisions.

"As admissions bodies review applications in future admissions cycles, we will respect decisions made by individual students and/or by their academic institutions with regard to the enrollment in or adoption of Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory, Pass/No Record, Credit/No Credit, Pass/Fail and other similar grading options during the pandemic disruptions," Cornell announced.

Both universities advised applicants to describe any special circumstances in their personal statements.

But Suzanne Ortega, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, believes that many grad schools are changing their practices but have not announced yet.

"The vast majority of universities are moving in the direction of something we call 'holistic admissions consideration,'" she said. "Not as many universities have issued formal statements yet, but I think its absolutely clear in the direction that universities and programs are going."

Holistic admissions review is based around the idea that no single piece of evidence by itself can say if a student is motivated or academically prepared.

"Consider a transcript in its total, be explicit about the kinds of characteristics you're looking for in applicants," Ortega said, explaining the philosophy. "Let their references know what kind of information would be helpful, and then take all those things together to make a decision."

The council has encouraged grad schools to use holistic admissions practices for a few years now, but the pandemic has brought on new motivations and new urgency.

"Students are anxious. They're concerned. They have a goal of going to graduate and professional school and in addition to all the other disruptions, they worry about how grades will be interpreted," Ortega said. "The process is already in place, it has been in place, to recognize the unique and extraordinary times we're in."

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Students say online classes aren't what they paid for

Lun, 04/13/2020 - 00:00

Arica Kincheloe said she took a risk quitting her job and moving halfway across the country from Seattle to attend the University of Chicago’s nationally ranked master's program in social service administration.

But now that her courses for the one-year accelerated program were moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kincheloe, a first-generation college graduate from a low-income background, is questioning what more than $50,000 in student loan debt will mean for her future.

“It’s a throwaway -- a shortened quarter. They took away one week of the quarter,” she said. “I do not feel like I am getting the same education that I would have otherwise. The sort of enrichment and learning that I would have in the classroom isn’t there.”

Students who were already struggling to stay afloat while managing the heavy cost of their education, which for Kincheloe exceeds $66,300 for one year, say they are being shortchanged by the online classes.

They're not alone -- students at University of California campuses and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts have echoed similar concerns about tuition not adding up to the education they were promised. Students at Miami and Drexel Universities filed a class action lawsuit for tuition refunds, but most colleges have generally been offering refunds on room and board fees, not tuition.

More than 1,500 Chicago students have signed a petition calling for a 50 percent tuition reduction for the spring quarter, which began on April 6. The private institution is one of the most costly in the United States, and students who support a lowered tuition are asking the university to go beyond the student services fee reduction it has already made, Kincheloe said. The fee, which covers services such as mental health counseling and recreational and social activities, was reduced from more than $400 -- ranging from $416 to $446 for graduate and undergraduate students -- to a flat fee of $125.

Some 850 students that belong to a newly formed group called UChicago for Fair Tuition have said they will withhold their spring quarter tuition payment, due April 29, because they either cannot afford it or they will not pay in solidarity with the students and families that have lost income due to economic hardship, said Julia Attie, a senior and organizer for the group. Attie said she convinced her mother to withhold the tuition payment, even though she can afford to pay it.

She and other students set to graduate this spring could eventually have restrictions placed on them by the university for withholding tuition payments. Under university policy, seniors could be prevented from graduating and underclassmen prevented from registering for classes. The striking students’ intention is to push Chicago, which has a $8.2 billion endowment and raised $5 billion in a 2019 fundraising campaign, to use some of those fund to further help students, Attie said.

“If the university truly needs our tuition, this will be a big blow and they will be forced to lower tuition,” she said. “If this isn’t a big blow, then it proves what we’ve been saying -- they have a huge fundraising arm, and if this doesn’t affect them, they can afford to reduce tuition.”

In response to the strike, university administrators have reassured students that they will continue to get credit toward their degrees and will be charged full tuition for the quarter as a result, according to a press release from UChicago for Fair Tuition. Students were reminded that they can take a voluntary leave of absence for the quarter and receive a full tuition refund if the leave was arranged by the first Friday of the quarter, which was April 10, according to current university policy.

“We also recognize that spring quarter will be different than anyone anticipated, but these changes are necessary to safeguard members of our community,” a statement from the university said. “On tuition, we take into account that the cost is a reflection of progress toward a degree. UChicago instructors are adapting courses to a remote learning environment to ensure that students continue to receive a rigorous, transformative education.”

Students who are months away from receiving their degrees don’t see a leave of absence as a practical option. Jamie Warren, a second-year graduate student at Chicago who signed the petition, said their best way forward is to push through the next three months, incur the debt and get the degree.

“My tuition is paid, but because my partner lost his income and his insurance, our savings will be drained over the next few months with food, rent, bills and other necessities,” Warren said. “I’ll already be in debt for the next couple decades, so my partner and I both agree that I might as well go broke over this.”

Chicago meets the full financial need of all undergraduate students who are admitted so they do not require loans, and first-year students receive an average financial aid award from the university of more than $50,000, Gerald McSwiggan, assistant director for public affairs, said in a written statement. Kincheloe said she received a $31,000 scholarship, which helped her decide to attend the university.

“It looked like they really take care of people,” she said.

“Compared with other major four-year universities in Illinois and nationwide, UChicago graduates have among the lowest levels of student debt and exceptional career outcomes, including placement with substantive job opportunities and top graduate programs,” the university's statement said.

Kincheloe said she's now less sure of her decision to enroll at Chicago. She said her learning experiences were what she hoped for, but navigating her education as a first-generation student has been “difficult” and she has not felt supported by the institution, especially now that she's under more financial stress after ending the occasional food delivery and bartending gigs she did to pay her bills.

“Obviously, there are things that are outside of their control and they have been trying to do things to alleviate what’s going on for people, but it seems like they are just waiting for others to do it,” Kincheloe said. “Elite schools bring in these students and don’t provide support. People in these communities have to rely on each other.”

A similar movement for tuition refunds was started last month by students in the University of California system. Rosie Oganesian, a freshman at the University of California, Irvine, started a petition that has been signed by more than 7,600 people asking the UC system to partially refund tuition for the spring quarter, which began two weeks ago, she said. Oganesian said after UC Irvine asked students to leave campus and said classes would be conducted online, she and her peers began to question why they were continuing to pay the cost of an in-person education.

Students studying in physical and life sciences programs will not be able to conduct experiments in research labs and learn how to use equipment for future courses, said Oganesian, who is a biology major and was supposed to begin a research lab during the spring quarter. She and other students, including those at Chicago, have acknowledged the work of instructors to replicate classes online, but Oganesian said she won’t have the same grasp of lab procedures that she’s now learning for the first time.

“We understand you still have to pay the professors, but that shouldn’t come out of our pockets,” Oganesian said. “If I wanted to go to an online school, I could go to an online school. I paid to go to class and sit in a lecture.”

Tuition, plus the student services fee, is a “mandatory charge” that helps cover faculty members’ salaries, said a March 30 email to students from UC Irvine officials. The UC system has not changed its policies for refunds, and students will continue to earn full credit for courses, said the email signed by Willie Banks Jr., vice chancellor for student affairs; Michael Dennin, dean of the division of undergraduate education; and Gillian Hayes, dean of the graduate division.

“The university continues to function even as many staff and faculty are working and teaching remotely,” the email said. “While certain aspects of campus operations are curtailed during this transition, many of the costs associated with campus-based fees continue, and new costs have been incurred during this time. The debt owed for student buildings and facilities and our need to maintain campus infrastructure continue despite the current crisis.”

While in-person instruction is the "preferred method" for most UC students, the pandemic requires adjustment to social distancing and classes delivered remotely for their safety, Sarah McBride, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President, said in an email. The university is incurring some new costs for the shift to online, including video software licensing, technology security and laptops for remote workers, she said.

Warren said an education dependent on internet connection, which sometimes makes it hard to see and hear the instructor, is not what University of Chicago students signed up for.

“Sitting in my own home, and not in a gorgeous classroom paid for by rich donors and students’ tuition -- that’s not what I was promised,” Warren said.

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Roundup: Special Q&A, furloughs and a foster pup

Lun, 04/13/2020 - 00:00

Another week!

The news is not much better than it was before. But we do have a special feature for you today. I talked with Stephanie Cawthon, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and director of the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes. We discussed the challenges students with disabilities are facing right now and what institutions should be doing to respond to them. You'll find that Q&A below. We plan to include these special features in each Monday edition of the daily roundup going forward.

But first, some palate cleansers. My roommates and I recently started fostering this perfect puppy, Kane, from the Humane Rescue Alliance.

Speaking of dogs, this broadcaster is still narrating his own pups' activities like very serious sporting competitions.

Some sports are slower. More about the strategy. pic.twitter.com/JMBaGJ1tSd

— Andrew Cotter (@MrAndrewCotter) April 9, 2020

And since it's getting sunnier outside, you can try creating your own victory garden if you have the space.

Now to the news.

The Association of American Medical Colleges is calling for a national standardized data collection system so researchers can accurately get information about the race, ethnicity, social conditions and environmental conditions of patients infected with COVID-19. The pandemic is bringing to light disparities and inequities between different populations in the U.S.

Some civil liberties groups are asking the U.S. Department of Education to not delay the release of proposed federal Title IX regulations, despite the ongoing pandemic.

Putting student tutoring online might seem like one of the easier challenges for higher education right now. But a survey found that some institutions are struggling with tech and training.

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

Federal stimulus funds are coming soon for higher education. At least that's what Betsy DeVos says. Kery Murakami has the story.

If you're curious, here's a searchable database Rick Seltzer made on how much institutions are expected to receive.

We've already reported on hiring freezes. Now institutions are using furloughs to rightsize their budgets, Emma Whitford reports. Colleen Flaherty also has a story on what non-tenure-track faculty are doing as the risks to their careers mount.

After spring comes summer. And those programs are increasingly going online due to COVID-19, Elizabeth Redden reports.

News From Elsewhere

Some college students are returning home to their parents. That's not always going smoothly, The New York Times reports.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on what faculty and institutions are doing as students get infected with the virus.

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.

An investor predicts that future generations, scarred by this pandemic, won't buy in to expensive universities if they don't have a clear path to employment.

The president of a private liberal arts college ponders whether the coronavirus pandemic will kill institutions such as his.

Young Invincibles talked with some college students in Texas about their experiences during this crisis.

Thanks for sticking around. As promised, below you'll find my Q&A with Stephanie Cawthon, of the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes and the University of Texas. Our conversation was edited for clarity and length.

Q: What are the biggest challenges students with disabilities are facing right now?

A: I really resonate when people say, "This is not best practices in online teaching. This is best practices in online teaching during a pandemic with very little time to plan." So really thinking about, what are the pain points that people are experiencing? From the perspective of students with disabilities, it’s thinking about that transition from, these are the strategies and accommodations and supports, official or unofficial, that I use in a face-to-face setting. Now I’m moving to an online setting where some of those things need to be rethought, but the landscape is changing very quickly and the time frames are very short.

One of the main challenges is wondering what the target is in terms of what does a learning environment look like. For example, you may have a specific accommodation or support -- I’ll use interpreters as an example for deaf students -- in a face-to-face setting. What are the face-to-face interactions that you’re experiencing in an online platform, and what are the ways in which the technology tools need to be connected to what those accommodations and experiences look like?

Broadband, access to computing -- these are things that affect everyone, but they affect access in a very specific way for students with disabilities. Think about the compounding effects of what happens when everyone is on Zoom at once and your call drops or your translator goes away. We’re noticing that shift is a challenge. Knowing what it is you’re trying to accommodate can be a challenge because faculty are often having to make up new assignments or new ways of engaging with students.

If we’re looking long-term, having set strategies on if you are converting from one platform to another, from face-to-face to online, what are the steps that need to be taken? It’s a good opportunity for institutions in general to think through, in a platform change, what are the access and accessibility questions that become embedded in that planning?

The second thing is to recognize there are many students with disabilities who don’t disclose and don’t go to a disabilities services office at the beginning of the year. They’ve figured out strategies for a face-to-face environment, but now that we’re online, those strategies may not work. For me, for example, I’m hard of hearing myself, and I would always just go sit in the front of the room and that would be one of my primary strategies for access in some situations that would work. That may not work in an online setting where it’s videos that don’t have captioning.

We are seeing some issues of isolation. Students with disabilities, they’re missing their peer networks. Those peer networks are often where you have what you think of as social capital. How did you navigate this situation? When you’re taken out of your face-to-face settings, you’re also often taken out of your social context, and that social context is a resource for many students, but especially students with disabilities. We are seeing some concern that the students need to be networked with each other and strategizing with each other.

Q: Why did colleges not have some of these plans in place?

A: I can’t respond for every institution and every administration, but I do think there’s a sense that any transition plan that we had in place was for short periods of time. Certainly nothing that would impact an entire semester, certainly nothing that would be looking at an overall trajectory of a students’ entry into or exit from an institution. I think this is providing us some better opportunities to think about how do we become more flexible?

In disabilities in education, we talk a lot about what we call universal design or accessible strategies. It’s not so much focused on the tools, which is where we see most people right now. That’s very much a response to something that’s an issue right now, but it doesn’t think back to the design of the learning in the first place. What I would encourage people to do is look at a couple of things.

You’re looking at, what does accessible learning mean when you are using different environments, but also when you have different types of ways that people can use material. The books on disability in education and accessible design and even architecture have been talking about this for years. You have an on-ramp versus steps. Those are two different ways into a building.

So when we think about how our learning environment is now a primary online environment, what are different ways to use those tools to provide multiple options for response? That flexibility in design can really help make these transitions easier if we have to do them in the future. So faculty thinking about what are some different ways I can assess students’ understanding of a specific topic? Do they always have to write a paper? Maybe not. Maybe someone can make a video, someone can write a paper, someone can design a lesson plan to teach that content to other students.

Q: What will happen if this mode of teaching continues into the fall?

A: I think the opportunity is there. Maybe it won't be 100 percent online, but we might at least intermittently at a local level be online, I think that’s a reasonable expectation. I think students are doing a really good job of advocating and saying, "Hey, make sure you keep us in the loop."

I think faculty are learning a lot. I think the summer prep period will be really important for faculty to lean on some of the resources knowing that we may go online for longer periods of time. I don’t see people sitting back and taking things lightly, so I think that actually gives me some hope.

When they’re aware of the issues and when they do have students with disabilities in their classes, I see most faculty being very responsive and at least trying to figure out where things fit in this paradigm. My expectation is that, over the summer there will be conversations with students about their disabilities services accommodations letter -- the letter that goes to faculty and says, "This is the list." That list might be expanded, that list might be contextualized. If we’re going online, this is the list; if we’re face-to-face​, this is the list.

Q: Do you think this series of events could lead to students with disabilities dropping out?

A: There are a number of factors that influence retention and enrollment for all students. One thing to remember is for students with disabilities, it compounds. It’s more expensive, often, to have a disability and to do the things that need to be done to function and navigate an able-bodied environment.

What we tend to see is that navigating a university environment with a disability takes energy, it takes advocacy, and those things take away from energy that is available to do other things, including schoolwork. The extent to where that tips in one way or another is where I would expect to see some further questions raised about if this online experience is really challenging and I’m not getting the information I need, and that’s where we’re going, maybe I’ll make a different choice.

What’s good in terms of access for people with disabilities is good for everyone. Captions on videos are good for everyone. The extent to which we can all become more familiar with and used to making sure that’s part of a video that you play in class, maybe that becomes more part of the culture, that we have a more accessible learning culture.

If vocational rehabilitation budgets get cut further, there will be fewer resources available for students who use those resources to go into postsecondary training. That would be one of the areas of concern that’s not directly related to how well did the institution look at access issues.

Q: Can you talk about that further?

A: The one I’m thinking of particularly is RSA -- the Rehabilitation Services Agency. Students with disabilities can apply for funding support for postsecondary training and education. It was originated looking at veterans.

Those funds have what’s called an order of service typically. Not everyone is eligible for everything if we’re in a budget crunch. A lot of those budgets shrunk in the recession of 2008, and many of them were not recovered. Any time you see an overall state budget decrease, you typically see the order of service criteria become stricter.

Q: What do students who have disabilities need the most to succeed from institutions?

A: Within the National Deaf Center, we define deaf in a very inclusive manner. We talk about deaf, we talk about deaf-blind, we talk about hard of hearing.

The reason I mention that is one thing institutions can recognize is that it’s very much a case-by-case basis. It’s not one size fits all. So if you have a strategy that works for one student, it may not be the right fit for another student. We really would recommend engaging with your students, finding out what they need, because in all cases it’s probably going to be a variety of things.

Advice No. 2 is to make sure public announcements are all accessible. If you put it on Twitter, put captions on it, put alt text on your images. If we’re really relying on these digital communications, and we are, make sure that they are fully accessible at all times. Model that so your faculty can see that’s the institutional culture. This is our practice, this is not just something we think of when somebody requests it.

The third thing I always come back to is this phrase: access is not just accommodations, it’s really a viewpoint. So you consider things like disability in your diversity statements. That may seem like a small thing, but it sets the tone, it sets the expectation for everything else to flow through that.

Q: Are you worried that budget cuts will affect disability services at campuses?

A: I’m certainly concerned about a reduction in services. Often those budgets are flat, often those budgets have not been responsive to the influx of students with disabilities on campus.

The disabilities services budget doesn’t always respond to what we see as an increase in that, especially when we’re looking at specialized training programs. There is a concern that the accommodations budget won’t continue to be considered. That’s partly why I go back to how do we define diversity on our campus? If disability is within that, maybe the budgets will continue to be aligned with that.

Q: Anything else you'd want to add?

A: Just remembering staff and faculty as also people with disabilities is an important consideration. How they’re adapting to this change and how they’re working within these transitions is a question that is an important one to ask.

Also, to realize that teaching and learning in an accessible format is going to benefit everyone.

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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Live Updates: Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education

Dom, 04/12/2020 - 14:57

Boston University Plans for Possibility of Delayed Fall Term

April 12, 10:45 a.m.  Boston University is planning for the possibility that the start of the fall term might need to be delayed until January 2021, “in which case summer 2021 academics would replace those now planned for fall 2020.” BU acknowledged the possibility in announcing the development of a universitywide COVID-19 Recovery Plan and the formation of five working groups focused on questions of remote and online working, graduate and professional programs, undergraduate programs, research, and student residential life.
 
In an article on its website, BU said the goal of the recovery plan is to define "what a residential research university will look like in the early days of the post-pandemic world....Ultimately, the plan seeks answers to such questions as what classes might look like if gatherings are restricted to a limited number of people and how Dining Services could operate without risk of transmitting the coronavirus."
 
“The recovery plan is an organizational approach to achieving our goals,” said Jean Morrison, BU’s provost and chief academic officer. “It allows us to task certain individuals with developing specific recommendations. It is designed to expedite decision-making and allow us to put a plan for the fall in place fairly quickly, so we have time to implement that plan in a thoughtful manner. By launching this effort now, we get out ahead of some of the issues for what is the best-case scenario, meaning we are able to come back to in-person classes and activities in the fall."
 
In its announcement, BU also said its recovery plan "accepts the possibility that international students are likely to face unique burdens, such as travel restrictions and interruptions in the processing of visas, and it suggests that some popular master’s programs may have to be offered remotely."​

-- Elizabeth Redden

 

April 11, 1:56 p.m.​​ The governors of Maryland and New York on Saturday made a bipartisan request for $500 billion from the federal government to meet budgetary shortfalls resulting from the pandemic and financial crisis. Some of those shortfalls are certain to be passed on to public colleges and universities in most states, under current financial projections.

Stay-at-home orders and other aggressive measures are helping to slow the spread of the virus, but those preventative moves are resulting in catastrophic damage to state revenue, wrote Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, and Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York. Hogan chairs the National Governors Association and Cuomo is the group's vice chair.

“Despite this grave challenge, the recently passed federal CARES Act contained zero funding to offset these drastic state revenue shortfalls. To stabilize state budgets and to make sure states have the resources to battle the virus and provide the services the American people rely on, Congress must provide immediate fiscal assistance directly to all states," they wrote. “We must be allowed to use any state stabilization funds for replacement of lost revenue, and these funds should not be tied to only COVID-19 related expenses. Congress must amend the CARES Act to allow this flexibility for existing federal funding."

The U.S. Congress must appropriate $500 billion for all U.S. states and territories to help cover budget holes, the two governors said. And those funds should be separate from much-needed federal money for local governments.

“In the absence of unrestricted fiscal support of at least $500 billion from the federal government, states will have to confront the prospect of significant reductions to critically important services all across this country, hampering public health, the economic recovery and -- in turn -- our collective effort to get people back to work," wrote Hogan and Cuomo.

-- Paul Fain

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Students File Class Action Seeking Tuition Reimbursement

April 10, 5:05 p.m. ​Students attending Miami and Drexel universities are trying to take their respective institutions to court, arguing they should be reimbursed for costs including tuition after campuses closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a significant development in the tensions over how much students who had been studying on campuses should pay for a semester suddenly upended by social distancing and classes shifting to online or remote instruction. Many colleges and universities have been offering refunds of fees, room and board. But leaders have generally resisted tuition refunds, often arguing that they are still delivering the core educational product for which tuition pays.

The Miami and Drexel students filed class-action lawsuits Wednesday in federal Court in South Carolina, Law360 reported. They’re being represented by a law firm based in the same state, Anastopoulo Law Firm LLC.

Students allege breach of contract and unjust enrichment. They seek unspecified damages, fees and costs.

They argue the universities prevented students from receiving the benefits of learning in person when they temporarily closed campus. The institutions are “still offering some level of academic instruction via online classes,” but students are nonetheless being deprived certain benefits, they argued.

The students argue that they chose to attend particular institutions based on advertising promoting on-campus experiences. In addition to instruction, tuition covers other services like computer labs, libraries and networking opportunities, they argued.

“Moreover, the value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes will be diminished” student complaints said, according to Law 360.

-- Rick Seltzer

Civil Liberties Groups Push Title IX Rule Release

April 10, 12:37 p.m. Two civil liberties groups have urged the U.S. Department of Education not to delay the release of proposed regulations under Title IX, the law prohibiting sex discrimination in institutions that receive federal funding, despite institutions’ occupation with the coronavirus pandemic.

The shift of colleges to primarily online operations means it is “an ideal time” for officials to change their policies to be in compliance with new Title IX regulations, the leaders of Speech First, a campus free speech organization, and the Independent Women’s Law Center, which advocates for reduced government control, wrote in a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Assistant Secretary Kenneth Marcus. The letter called attempts to delay the final regulations, which were proposed in November 2018, “a disingenuous attempt to put off indefinitely the implementation of rules that certain senators and special interest groups oppose on the merits.”

Several members of Congress and state attorneys general have called on DeVos to delay the final rule, suggesting that institutions are putting all efforts toward the basic needs of students during the coronavirus pandemic. But waiting on the rule would mean “biased investigatory procedures that stack the deck against the accused” will continue for students in the Title IX process at colleges, the letter said.

“All stakeholders in America’s institutions of higher education -- from students and parents to faculty and administrators -- deserve a just system, and they deserve it now,” Nicole Neily, president and founder of Speech First, said in a release. “At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has created much uncertainty in the education community, the department can provide clarity with respect to Title IX by issuing the regulations as soon as possible.”

-- Greta Anderson

AAMC Wants Better COVID-19 Data Collection Because of Health Disparities

April 10,12:11 p.m. The Association of American Medical Colleges is calling for a national standardized data collection system to accurately capture information about race, ethnicity, social conditions and environmental conditions affecting the spread of illness.

That call comes in light of the coronavirus pandemic laying bare social, economic and health inequities, the AAMC said in a news release. The association went on to recommend capturing community-level data showing the neighborhoods to which COVID-19 patients are discharged, because county and zip code data are not specific enough to capture communities likely to be affected.

Those on the forefront of the pandemic response, such as state health departments, local public health departments, private testing labs and hospitals, should be engaged to prevent systems from becoming unnecessarily burdened, according to the AAMC.

“While health inequities related to COVID-19 are most certainly developing in real-time, the fact is that our current data collection efforts are inadequate and do not give us a complete picture,” Dr. Ross McKinney, AAMC chief scientific officer, said in a statement.

AAMC leaders added that better data on the current outbreak will enable officials to prevent additional catastrophic outcomes for vulnerable communities experiencing health disparities.

“Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans, the poor, the homeless, immigrants, and people who are incarcerated find themselves with fewer economic resources and with physical health conditions that make them and their communities more vulnerable to illnesses like COVID-19,” said Dr. David A. Acosta, AAMC chief diversity and inclusion officer, in a statement.

Members of the association include all 155 accredited U.S. medical schools, 17 accredited Canadian medical schools, almost 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems, and over 80 academic societies.

--  Rick Seltzer

Survey: Challenges for Online Tutoring Programs

April 10, 11:08 a.m.​ Results from a survey conducted by Primary Research Group show how colleges have moved their tutoring programs online. The 32 respondents, primarily tutoring program directors from U.S. colleges and universities, described problems in training student tutors. They also provided details about the software their institutions are using in online tutoring and the extent of those programs.

Survey participants estimated that a mean of 38 percent of their students have more trouble taking online courses and may require extra support, according to the report from the research firm. The survey found that roughly 90 percent of participating institutions had moved all their courses to some form of online delivery. But only about 28 percent of respondents from private colleges said their institutions had an online tutoring program in place before the pandemic.

The survey also found that 72 percent of tutors at community colleges were working from home, the lowest amount among sectors covered by the research.

-- Paul Fain

Higher Ed Groups Call for $47 Billion in Federal Aid

April 9, 5:55 p.m. ​Colleges and universities need a $46.6 billion infusion from Congress to “at least partially restore institutions,” wrote 41 education groups to congressional leaders.

To come up with the figure, the groups estimated that an additional $12 billion is necessary for need-based financial aid because more students and their families will see a reduction in their wages. 

Another $11.6 billion is needed to make up losses in revenue from auxiliary services like residence halls, food services, bookstores and health and recreation facilities. The groups conservatively estimated that institutions will see a 25-percent decline in revenue from those services, which brought in $44.6 billion in 2017. 

The groups, including the American Council on Education and other associations representing higher education institutions, estimated a 15-percent drop in overall student enrollment in the next academic year, including a 25-percent decline in international student enrollment. Combined, that would mean another $23 billion in revenue, said the letter written by Ted Mitchell, ACE's president, on behalf of the groups.

The letter comes as Congress haggles over passing another coronavirus rescue package. The requested amount would be far more than the $14 billion allocated to higher education in the $2 trillion package Congress passed two weeks ago.

“In order to address these urgent needs, it is necessary for the federal government to provide these critical funds to students and campuses as rapidly as possible,” Mitchell wrote.

-- Kery Murakami

Survey: Students Worried About Switch to Online

April 9, 5:10 p.m. Many college students are worried about the switch to remote learning, according to a survey from Barnes & Noble Education.

The survey, conducted during the week of March 23, found that 64 percent of respondents were concerned about maintaining focus and discipline for their courses after moving online. A little over half are worried about losing their normal social interactions, and 45 percent are concerned about getting good grades. A smaller portion of respondents -- about 12 percent -- are worried their internet access isn't good enough for online learning.

On the upside, about 60 percent feel at least somewhat prepared for the switch. Those with previous experience taking online courses feel more confident than others.

Most respondents also agreed that their colleges and instructors are prepared for the switch, but about one-quarter are doubtful about their institutions' preparedness.

“While the switch to online learning is a massive adjustment for all parties involved, we need to remember that many of today’s students are digital natives, and they are generally well-equipped to handle digital materials and tools,” Lisa Malat, president of Barnes & Noble College, said in the release. “However, this abrupt change in lifestyle has also had social and emotional impacts on students, and many are grappling with how to succeed academically in the midst of this disruption. We’ve seen colleges, universities, faculty and family members all providing the resources they can to ease this transition. With the right structure and support in place, students may ultimately find that this way of learning works better for them, as it allows them to go more at their own pace.”

-- Madeline St. Amour​

Movement to Forgive Health Care Workers' Student Debt

April 9, 5:05 p.m. Consuelo López-Morillas​, a professor emerita at Indiana University, Bloomington, started a petition asking lawmakers to cancel student loan debt for doctors, nurses and health care professionals who are responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 385,000 people have signed on since it launched last week. 

"Health professionals carry crushing loads of student debt, from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now they are like soldiers in war, saving lives while risking their own and protecting the rest of us, and many have already died while doing their duty," Lopez-Morillas wrote in the petition. "Without the debt burden more would work in lower-paying specialties like family practice, or in underserved rural and urban areas. Society would benefit both in health and economically for many years to come, just as America benefited from the GI Bill."

Today, Carolyn Maloney, a congresswoman from New York, said she will introduce legislation to do just that. The so-called Student Debt Forgiveness for Frontline Health Care Workers Act would eliminate graduate school debt for health care workers who are providing care in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It would include recent graduates and professionals who are still paying off their loans. 

“Medical professionals in hospitals and other medical settings are operating in extraordinarily difficult and dangerous circumstances to provide care for critically ill COVID-19 patients and protect our communities. New York City has been hit particularly hard in the pandemic, and many other areas of the country are beginning to experience surges in patients with COVID-19 symptoms, putting great stress on health care institutions and their employees. The least we can do to recognize their service is to forgive their graduate student loan debt so that they are not forced to worry about their financial wellbeing in addition to their health and the health of their families while they respond to a public health emergency," Maloney said in a news release.

-- Madeline St. Amour​

Stimulus Money Coming Soon, DeVos Says

April 9, 3:15 p.m. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave colleges and universities some assurance they will soon get their share of the coronavirus relief package, telling reporters the department is working to make available more information on the release of the money in two weeks.

"The department, at the secretary's urging, is working to make funds available as quickly as possible," an Education Department news release said.

DeVos also announced the department is immediately releasing $6 billion contained in the package to institutions to pay for emergency grants to students.

However, DeVos left up in the air a key question institutions are anxious to have answered: How can they use their share of the package?

The $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package set aside $14 billion for higher education, with half going to help institutions with the cost of dealing with the epidemic. The other half will go to emergency grants for students who need help with costs like computers for online learning, food, housing and transportation.

But institutions have been anxious to know if they can use their share of the money to reimburse what they’ve already spent to help students or on other coronavirus-related costs as virtually all have shifted to online learning.

“It is critical for the department to provide campuses with as much flexibility as possible for distributing these funds on campus, both for emergency grants to students and to help cover institutional refunds, expenses and other lost revenues,” Ted Mitchell, the American Council on Education's president, wrote to DeVos last week on behalf of other higher education associations and groups.

During a call with reporters, DeVos said the department is still mulling those details.

"At the end of the day, [do] we wish the money [for institutions] was coming out now? You bet. But the department is doing the best it can," said Terry Hartle, ACE's senior vice president for government and public affair​s.

DeVos also was vague about possible requirements on how institutions dole out the emergency grants. But she said the department wants the money to first go to “the most disadvantaged with the greatest needs for support.”

She declined to say when the department will issue the much-anticipated and controversial Title IX rule, which will change how institutions handle allegations of sexual assault and harassment. College leaders and Democratic lawmakers have urged DeVos to hold off on issuing the rule at a time when institutions are busy dealing with the pandemic.

“We are sensitive to the situation,” DeVos said. “But we also have to acknowledge that Title IX investigations continue to happen.”

Higher education groups did not have an immediate reaction to DeVos’s remarks on the stimulus funding. They have been frustrated that the department hasn’t been able to say when the money would be available. A Republican Senate education committee aide said the measure only recently passed and characterized the complaints as "whining."

Mitchell in his letter urged DeVos to get the money to campuses quickly. “This crisis is causing massive disruption to students, institutional operations and institutional finances. On some campuses, it is creating an existential threat, potentially resulting in closures … I fear this funding will be for naught for many institutions unless the department can act very quickly to make these funds available,” the letter said.

-- Kery Murakami​

Education Department Releases Stimulus Distribution List

April 9, 2:56 p.m. The U.S. Department of Education has released its plan for distributing $14 billion of the federal stimulus to colleges and universities. The list of planned allocations for each institution can be found here.

In a letter to college leaders, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said $12.56 billion of that amount will be distributed to colleges based on an enrollment formula. At least 50 percent of the amount each college receives must go to students as emergency aid grants to help cover campus expenses related to disruptions caused by the pandemic, she said.

The department said the $6.28 billion for emergency aid is available today.

The CARES Act stimulus features significant discretion on how institutions award the emergency aid, said DeVos, who encouraged college leaders to prioritize students with the greatest needs.

"This means that each institution may develop its own system and process for determining how to allocate these funds, which may include distributing the funds to all students or only to students who demonstrate significant need," DeVos said. "The only statutory requirement is that the funds be used to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus (including eligible expenses under a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and child care)."

-- Paul Fain​

More Than a Dozen West Virginia U Students Test Positive

April 9, 2:20 p.m. Local public health officials told West Virginia University that more than a dozen students had tested positive for COVID-19, the university reported Wednesday. West Virginia said in a press release that while investigations and contact tracing are ongoing, "it is believed 14 students returned to private, off-campus residences upon returning to Morgantown," the city where WVU is located. WVU campuses have been closed since March 20, and the university said there is no indication the students have been on campus.

“We cannot reiterate enough that students need to be taking this virus seriously and follow all of executive orders issued by Gov. Jim Justice as well as health precaution guidelines outlined by our local health officials,” WVU dean of students Corey Farris said in a statement. “To not do so is putting not only your fellow students’ health at risk, but the health and well-being of our entire Morgantown community.”​

-- Elizabeth Redden​

Higher Education's Role in a Federal Jobs Bill

April 9, 12:30 p.m. Another 6.6 million Americans filed unemployment claims last week, the Labor Department reported, bringing the unprecedented total job loss amid the pandemic to 17 million in less than a month.

As federal lawmakers mull another stimulus plan, some are advocating an ambitious jobs bill. Mary Alice McCarthy, for example, calls for a 21st-century version of the Works Progress Administration, which put millions back to work during the Great Depression.

"The WPA employed nearly nine million Americans over its eight-year tenure and is widely credited with bringing unemployment under control during the Great Depression," writes McCarthy, a former official at the Labor and Education Departments during the Obama administration, and currently director of the Center on Education and Skills with the education policy program at New America. "Growing the ranks of the public sector workforce by that number today may not be politically feasible, but a well-crafted federal infrastructure investment that channels money to state and local governments and, through them, to local businesses and nonprofits, could stem the tide of mass unemployment and its many negative effects on individuals, families and communities."

The last recession showed that new jobs typically required higher levels of education, McCarthy said. But many displaced workers were unable to enroll in a college or another postsecondary training program before going back to work.

A new jobs bill could help solve that problem, she wrote.

"A direct federal investment in new jobs could integrate education and training with paid work, by subsidizing apprenticeships or paying the wages of new hires while they attend college," McCarthy said. "Educational investments, including much-needed funding for higher education and federal student aid programs like the Pell Grant, could then be targeted squarely on helping Americans who want to complete a college degree, afford it."

-- Paul Fain​

Annual Developer Challenge to Focus on COVID-19

April 9, 11:00 a.m. IBM's annual competition that calls on software developers to create solutions to global problems is focusing on COVID-19 this year.

The 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge University Edition will kick off April 22, and the submission deadline is July 31, according to a news release. Students will have access to COVID-19 starter kits, or they can design their own solution.

IBM is partnering with Clinton Global Initiative University to run the university edition of the competition.

Students will have access to virtual workshops, codeathons and office hours throughout the process. IBM will work with the teams who create promising solutions to build, fortify, test and deploy them through IBM Code and Response.

The grand prize is $10,000. The winning team, as well as the runner-up, will have the opportunity to interview for a role at IBM.

-- Madeline St. Amour

Arizona Withdraws Funded Graduate Offers

April 8, 3:00 a.m. The University of Arizona is withdrawing funding packages to accepted graduate students who have not yet committed to the institution. The philosophy blog Daily Nous first reported the news, as it pertains to Arizona’s philosophy department.

Chris Sigurdson, university spokesperson, said via email Wednesday evening that the policy applies to the entire institution. Given the “unanticipated financial pressures brought to bear by the coronavirus crisis, we wanted to give potential graduate students who had not yet accepted our offer the opportunity to make other plans if they chose,” he said.

The policy does not apply to funding based on grants or scholarships. Accepted students may still choose to enroll, but with limited or no financial support.

“Our goal to protect our current graduate students from potential losses of funding and we needed to limit outstanding financial offers to ensure that,” Sigurdson said.

-- Colleen Flaherty

CUNY Starts Emergency Fund for Coronavirus Relief

April 8, 4:05 p.m. The City University of New York has launched an emergency relief fund for students who need financial help due to the coronavirus crisis.

The Chancellor's Emergency Relief Fund will distribute grants of $500 each to thousands of CUNY students. The Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation and the James and Judith K. Dimon Foundation have provided initial gifts of $1 million each for the fund, which is the first of its kind at CUNY. Several other corporate sponsors have given an additional $1.25 million.

CUNY hopes to raise $10 million over the next few months for the fund.

About 275,000 CUNY students come from households with median annual incomes of about $40,000, and 38 percent come from families earning less than $20,000. Nearly half of CUNY students work while attending college.

Students will begin receiving the grants the week of April 20. They will be chosen by lottery from a group of about 14,000 students who met financial need and academic criteria. CUNY hopes to provide more grants in the coming months as it raises funds.

“The coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating economic impact on many of our students, and this unprecedented emergency fund will provide rapid-response financial support to those who need it most,” Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, CUNY's chancellor, said in a statement.

CUNY has also bought 30,000 computers and tablets for students who need them to participate in distance learning. About 1,600 CUNY community college students received $400 for food, and 117 foster-care students in a CUNY initiative will receive $425 emergency grants.

-- Madeline St. Amour

Law Schools and Coronavirus: Bar Exemptions and More

April 8, 1:39 p.m. The American Bar Association's Board of Governors passed a policy resolution this week urging state licensing authorities to allow 2019 and 2020 law graduates who can’t take the July bar exam to practice law in a limited capacity. Some jurisdictions already have canceled the July administration of the test due to COVID-19.

Graduates of ABA-approved law schools may practice “under the supervision of a licensed attorney if the July bar exam in their jurisdiction is canceled or postponed due to public health and safety concerns arising from the coronavirus pandemic,” the ABA announced, summarizing the policy recommendation. The proposal applies only to first-time bar takers and would enable them to practice through 2021 without taking the exam.

“By justifiably postponing bar examinations, states are protecting law students and the public’s health, but the lives and careers of law graduates are being adversely affected,” Judy Perry Martinez, ABA's president, said in a statement. “This guidance for an emergency law graduate rule will not only help the recent law graduates work within the legal sector in a meaningful way, but also will add more people to help address the increase in legal needs for individuals and businesses caused by this pandemic.”

How are law schools handling the transition to remote instruction? The Primary Research Group published a survey of law school faculty and staff members on distance legal education. Forty-three percent of faculty members surveyed preferred to deliver course content using Zoom or other group meetings, while 31 percent preferred course management systems. Fifteen percent of professors delivered lectures through downloadable video links, asynchronously, and 22 percent set up a chat forum for their classes.

-- Colleen Flaherty

Debt Relief for 300,000 Private Borrowers in N.Y.

April 8, 10:02 a.m. Andrew Cuomo, New York's Democratic governor, announced the state will offer relief to 300,000 borrowers who took out private student loans. Those borrowers were excluded from the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus bill, which allowed most other student loan borrowers to avoid making payments for six months, without interest. Senator Elizabeth Warren and 11 of her colleagues this week wrote to private student loan companies to call on them to offer help to borrowers.

In an agreement the state reached with Navient, Nelnet and other lenders that comprise 90 percent of private student loan lenders, borrowers who face financial hardship due to the pandemic may contact their student loan servicer to defer payments for 90 days and receive other relief, including no late payment fees and no negative data reported to credit bureau agencies.

As many as 300,000 New Yorkers may get help with loans under the agreement.

“At a time where many are suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19 it is imperative that all regulated industries work with consumers to provide relief,” Linda A. Lacewell, superintendent of the state's Department of Financial Services, said in a statement. “We appreciate the largest student loan servicers and lenders in New York and the nation stepping forward with a thoughtful plan to help New York student loan borrowers.”

The announcement follows New York's move to temporarily halt collection of student debt owed to the state and referred to the attorney general for collection, for at least a 30-day period.

-- Paul Fain

Research Institutions Ask for $26 Billion

April 7, 5:50 p.m. Three national associations representing colleges and universities urged Congress on Tuesday to appropriate $26 billion in emergency funding for research universities, medical schools and teaching hospitals affected by the coronavirus epidemic. In part, the money is needed to keep paying for graduate students, researchers and others who have had to stop their federally funded work during the pandemic.

“Much of our nation’s research workforce is effectively idled due to closed laboratories and severely limited research activities. While some are repurposing their efforts to aid in the fight against COVID-19 or attempting to analyze existing data and making other attempts at telework, for many more their federally supported research is delayed or will be set back because they are unable to access their laboratories and research facilities,” the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Association of American Universities, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the American Council on Education wrote in a letter to congressional leaders.

In addition, the research institutions are facing the costs of ramping down their facilities, including disposing of hazardous wastes, the letter said. They will also incur more costs when they are able to resume operations.

“Given the current shutdown of many university-based and national laboratories due to the pandemic, we are deeply concerned that the people who comprise the research workforce -- graduate students, postdocs, principal investigators, and technical support staff -- and the future health and strength of the U.S. research enterprise, are at risk,” the letter said.

Congress, which passed a $2 trillion stimulus package two weeks ago, is expected to take up another package when it returns from recess later this month.

-- Kery Murakami

Call for Lottery-Style College Admissions

April 7, 4:50 p.m. Many colleges and universities have gone test optional in college admissions amid the coronavirus crisis, which also is wreaking havoc with large numbers of high school transcripts.

That combination likely means admissions staff members at selective colleges will have "extraordinary discretion" in making decisions about whom to admit, writes Rick Hess,

"Unleashed from the discipline imposed by an applicant’s grades, test scores and demonstrated accomplishment, college officials and admissions staff may be tempted to favor applicants with deep-pocketed parents, those who reflect their own personal or political biases, and those able to assemble a compelling file even when the world is in pieces (read: the privileged and connected)," he wrote in Forbes.

Hess called for an unprecedented experiment to try to level the playing field in admissions: a lottery-style process where applicants need only have a high school diploma or equivalent. It's not the first time Hess has proposed such a solution, which also has been suggested by New America.

"College admissions are a complicated, fraught challenge in the best of times. And these are not the best of times," wrote Hess. "If colleges are going to struggle to judge students fairly, in any event, it just may be time to try another approach to admissions -- and to make a virtue out of necessity."

-- Paul Fain

Outbreak Hurts Higher Ed Worldwide for Next Year, Moody's Says

April 7, 2:11 p.m. Moody’s Investors Service expects the coronavirus outbreak to have a negative effect on higher education worldwide for the next year, it said in a report out today.

Universities will face lower student demand and lost income, according to the bond ratings agency. Public institutions in the United States are at higher risk than others around the world in part because of the potential for government funding cuts. Lower investment income could also affect U.S. universities disproportionately because investment income is a higher percentage of income for U.S. universities than it is for others around the globe.

"We expect rated universities in all of our current jurisdictions -- U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, Singapore and Mexico -- to enroll fewer students for the next academic year than planned, due to the outbreak," said Jeanne Harrison, vice president and senior analyst at Moody’s, in a statement. "In addition, if campuses remain closed for part of the year, income from residence halls, catering, conferences and sporting events will be lower than budgeted. Endowment and gift income may also decline."

Ramifications for college and university credit quality depends on how long the outbreak lasts, Moody’s said. If campuses can reopen for the upcoming academic year, damage to demand and institutional budgets will be manageable.

Also important to watch are international student flows, which will depend largely on conditions within individual countries. Most universities Moody’s rates rely heavily on Chinese students, who are 23 percent of international students globally.

-- Rick Seltzer

Democrats Call for Relief for Private Loan Borrowers

April 7, 12:29 p.m. Senator Elizabeth Warren and 11 other Democratic and Independent senators have written to student loan companies to urge them to offer help to borrowers with private student loans.

Private loan borrowers were left out of the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus bill, which allowed most other student loan borrowers to skip making payments for six months without interest. Congress also suspended involuntary collections of late payments, like garnishing wages, tax refunds and Social Security benefits. In addition to suspending payments for an unspecified “parallel” amount of time to what other borrowers received, the senators urged the 14 companies in the letters to not seize payments, to discharge as many loans as possible of borrowers in bankruptcy or fiscal distress and to expand loan modification and affordable repayment options.

The Student Loan Servicing Alliance last week said nearly all private lenders are offering borrowers up to a three-month suspension from making payments.

The letter urges companies to cancel or discharge as many delinquent loans as possible during the crisis, especially for borrowers who have filed for bankruptcy or who are otherwise in clear financial distress that will inhibit their ability to ever fully repay their loans. It also calls for the companies to permanently provide additional, affordable repayment and loan modification options for private student loan borrowers, including options for borrowers who see long-term changes in their income.

"The outbreak of COVID-19 has resulted in an unprecedented and widespread public health and economic crisis, significantly upending life for every American," the lawmakers wrote. "For private student loan borrowers, these economic disruptions will be uniquely devastating due to private student loan borrowers' lack of critical protections, forgiveness programs, and repayment options available to federal student loan borrowers."

In addition to Warren, of Massachusetts, the letters were signed by Senators Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, Massachusetts’ Edward Markey, California’s Kamala Harris, Hawaii’s Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, Illinois’s Richard Durbin, Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen, New Jersey’s Cory Booker, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders.

-- Kery Murakami

China Offers Help to Students in U.S., for a Price

April 7, 11:16 a.m. The Chinese government plans to send chartered planes to help Chinese students in the U.S. return home during the coronavirus pandemic.

The catch? Students will have to pay for the flights, as well as the costs for quarantining for 14 days upon arrival in China, according to the South China Morning Post.

The government has become cautious about bringing students back home who could possibly bring the coronavirus with them.

About 400,000 Chinese students are studying in the United States. A recent online survey found that nearly 60 percent of those students want to return home, according to the Post.

-- Madeline St. Amour

College Presidents Expect Layoffs, Admissions Trouble

April 7, 11:05 a.m. A survey of 285 college presidents found that most are planning employee layoffs in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

ABC Insights conducted the survey with help from the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the rpk Group. It received responses from presidents across all institution types and sizes.

About 75 percent of presidents said they are preparing to "hunker down" as the coronavirus spreads. Seventy-two percent said they plan to lay off staff, with many expecting to cut administrative costs.

These plans were fairly consistent among institutions. Two-year college presidents were more likely to say they plan to hunker down, and those at small universities were more likely to say they plan to lay people off.

Most respondents -- 64 percent -- said they anticipate moderate scenarios stemming from this crisis. About 70 percent of presidents expect to see revenue decline by at least 10 percent, with presidents of small institutions expecting a larger hit. Financial issues and enrollment declines are the main sources of worry, according to the survey.

-- Madeline St. Amour

Survey: Prospective Students Rethink the Fall

April 7, 10:25 a.m. A new poll has found that high school seniors are rethinking whether they will enroll in college in the fall due to the novel coronavirus.

About one in six prospective students who are considering enrolling in four-year colleges are near the point of giving up on attending in the fall, according to an Art and Science Group survey that received roughly 500 responses. About 17 percent of respondents said they are likely to change their college plans and instead take a gap year next year or attend a program part-time.

Two-thirds of graduating seniors are concerned they will have to change their first-choice college due to the pandemic. About 21 percent said their families may no longer be able to afford their first-choice college because of the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

But the global health crisis might also be changing students' perspective of online learning. Nearly half of the respondents said that, because of the coronavirus, they are more interested in taking an online program or course during their higher education experience.

-- Madeline St. Amour

Fitch Predicts Stimulus Won't Match Coronavirus Costs for Colleges

April 6, 3:58 p.m. Another bond ratings agency is predicting that the recently signed federal stimulus package will not provide enough relief to colleges and universities to offset the combination of revenue being lost and expenses that are increasing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The higher education sector is experiencing prorated declines in some student fees along with an increase in operating expenses driven in part by the shift to online learning, Fitch Ratings said in a note released today. That puts the most pressure on institutions with relatively less liquidity, low margins and difficulty balancing their budgets, as well as residential colleges that rely heavily on revenue from student fees.

“Many institutions are evaluating expense reduction actions, including support-staff layoffs or furloughs,” Fitch said in its note. “Higher-rated institutions with strong financial cushions should have sufficient resources to cover budget gaps at least through the end of the 2020 fiscal year.”

Fitch also provides estimates on how $14.3 billion that the stimulus package dedicated to colleges and universities could translate on the ground. A tenth of the funding is to be divided between historically black colleges and universities, as well as grants for small institutions that have unmet needs related to the coronavirus. Three-quarters of the remaining 90 percent is to be distributed based on enrollment of full-time students receiving Pell Grants, with leftover money to be distributed based on share of enrollment not receiving Pell Grants. If the formula is applied uniformly across eligible students using 2018-19 enrollment data, Fitch estimates that institutions would receive about $1,400 per Pell student and $200 per non-Pell student.

Larger institutions, which are likely to have more resources on hand, are likely to receive the most aid, according to the ratings agency. Small private colleges, which have less financial wiggle room, may need more federal assistance.

“Even with funds earmarked specifically for small institutions with unmet coronavirus-related financial needs, the demand for, and method of, disbursement for these funds is yet unknown and may leave some smaller institutions to face heightened financial strain and rating pressure,” Fitch’s note said.

Generally, Fitch anticipates financial margins tightening across the sector.

The findings on coronavirus costs exceeding new revenue in the stimulus are similar to conclusions reached by Moody’s Investors service last week.

-- Rick Seltzer

Historians and COVID-19

April 6, 1:38 p.m. The American Historical Association and several peer organizations in a new statement urge institutions that employ historians to be flexible and humane during COVID-19. The statement calls for clarity regarding any changes to faculty review, reappointment and tenure processes, and for only optional delays to individual personnel actions, such as tenure clocks. Non-tenure-track faculty members should be compensated for previously contracted spring, summer and fall course offerings, and universities should consider "extending the duration of funded support to graduate students as well as offering whatever support possible to graduate students who have suffered serious financial losses relating to the impact of the pandemic." Libraries, museums and archives should similarly be as flexible as possible, according to the AHA.

"Everything has a history and historians are especially well suited to explain social and cultural challenges met in crisis situations, epidemics and pandemics among them," the statement says. "Like our colleagues in related disciplines, historians can also explore the challenges public health authorities, governments and nonprofit institutions face in mediating possible conflicts between individual rights and the good of the greater society."

The document concludes, "When a neighbor asks, 'Is it worth sacrificing the economy for a few hundred thousand lives,' it's time for a humanist to enter the discussion. This important, and difficult, conversation too has a history."

-- Colleen Flaherty

Payments Deferred for Florida College Savings Program

April 6, 1:32 p.m. Parents in Florida who had signed up for prepaid plans to save for college will get some extra time before starting monthly payments.

The Florida Prepaid College Board announced today that it is deferring payments until July to help families through the economic and global health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus, according to a news release.

Prepaid plans let parents start saving for a child's college education while also locking in future costs. Plans start at $44 per month for newborns, which is the lowest minimum amount in five years.

New customers who buy a plan during what's left of the open enrollment period will have the $50 application fee waived. Their payments won't start until July.

Current customers will have their April, May and June payments deferred, unless they choose to continue payments. Payment schedules will be extended by three months.

“As uncertain as these times are, we encourage Florida families to take comfort in knowing that Prepaid College Plans offer certainty and security for your college savings,” Kevin Thompson, executive director of Florida Prepaid, said in the news release. “All Prepaid College Plans are guaranteed by the State of Florida, ensuring families can never lose their investment.”

-- Madeline St. Amour

Pay Cuts for University Presidents, Coaches

April 6, 11:48 a.m. University presidents and athletic administrators are among those who have begun taking pay cuts amid the pandemic and recession.

Michael Schill, president of the University of Oregon, on Friday announced a temporary reduction of 12 percent to his pay, The Register-Guard reported. The university's vice presidents and athletic director will have their pay cut by 10 percent. The reductions will be in place for six months but may be extended.

“We are almost certainly all going to have to make sacrifices,” Schill said.

Athletic department coaches and other staff members at Iowa State University collectively will take $3 million in pay reductions, according to the Des Moines Register. The pay cuts are due in part to lost revenue from canceled basketball tournaments, Iowa State said.

The provost and president at Stanford University will take 20 percent pay cuts, according to Palo Alto's The Daily Post. Other senior administrators at Stanford will see their pay slashed by 5 to 10 percent.

Andrew Rosen, the chairman of Kaplan Inc., which partners with Purdue University on the online Purdue University Global, has elected to take a 50 percent pay cut, Kaplan's holding company said in a corporate filing.

Carol Folt, who became the University of Southern California's president last year, will take a 20 percent cut, the Los Angeles Times reported.

-- Paul Fain

American Medical Association Releases Guidance on Medical Student Participation in COVID-19 Response

April 5, 11:45 a.m. Medical students across the country, at institutions like Harvard University, New York University and the University of Kansas, are being permitted to graduate early to aid in the fight against COVID-19. Other students may be asked to help in patient care as part of their studies. The American Medical Association has now released guidance for medical schools and health systems on the involvement of medical students and early graduates.

"There are many opportunities for students to contribute to the clinical care of patients without engaging in direct physical contact with patients," an introduction to the guidance reads. "However, in some institutions the workforce demands may be great enough that it is appropriate to consider including medical students in direct patient care."

Among other recommendations, the AMA advises institutions to allow students to freely choose whether they would like to be involved in direct patient care, without incentives or coercion. Medical students should be given proper personal protective equipment and training on how to use it. Medical students should not be financially responsible for their own diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 should they become sick from school-approved activities, the association said.

For institutions with early graduation options for medical students to aid in the pandemic, the association stresses that the option should be enacted on a voluntary basis and be founded on achievement of core competencies. Institutions should not compel students to begin their matched residencies earlier than originally intended and should grant graduates full status as employees with appropriate salaries and benefits, the organization advised.

-- Lilah Burke

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Boston University Plans for Possibility of Delayed Fall Term

Dom, 04/12/2020 - 07:45

Boston University is planning for the possibility that the start of the fall term might need to be delayed until January 2021, “in which case summer 2021 academics would replace those now planned for fall 2020.” BU acknowledged the possibility in announcing the development of a universitywide COVID-19 Recovery Plan and the formation of five working groups focused on questions of remote and online working, graduate and professional programs, undergraduate programs, research, and student residential life.

In an article on its website, BU said the goal of the recovery plan is to define "what a residential research university will look like in the early days of the post-pandemic world....Ultimately, the plan seeks answers to such questions as what classes might look like if gatherings are restricted to a limited number of people and how Dining Services could operate without risk of transmitting the coronavirus."

“The recovery plan is an organizational approach to achieving our goals,” said Jean Morrison, BU’s provost and chief academic officer. “It allows us to task certain individuals with developing specific recommendations. It is designed to expedite decision-making and allow us to put a plan for the fall in place fairly quickly, so we have time to implement that plan in a thoughtful manner. By launching this effort now, we get out ahead of some of the issues for what is the best-case scenario, meaning we are able to come back to in-person classes and activities in the fall."

In its announcement, BU also said its recovery plan "accepts the possibility that international students are likely to face unique burdens, such as travel restrictions and interruptions in the processing of visas, and it suggests that some popular master’s programs may have to be offered remotely."

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Governors Call for $500 Billion in Federal Aid

Sáb, 04/11/2020 - 10:56

The governors of Maryland and New York on Saturday made a bipartisan request for $500 billion from the federal government to meet budgetary shortfalls resulting from the pandemic and financial crisis. Some of those shortfalls are certain to be passed on to public colleges and universities in most states, under current financial projections.

Stay-at-home orders and other aggressive measures are helping to slow the spread of the virus, but those preventative moves are resulting in catastrophic damage to state revenue, wrote Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, and Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York. Hogan chairs the National Governors Association and Cuomo is the group's vice chair.

“Despite this grave challenge, the recently passed federal CARES Act contained zero funding to offset these drastic state revenue shortfalls. To stabilize state budgets and to make sure states have the resources to battle the virus and provide the services the American people rely on, Congress must provide immediate fiscal assistance directly to all states," they wrote. “We must be allowed to use any state stabilization funds for replacement of lost revenue, and these funds should not be tied to only COVID-19 related expenses. Congress must amend the CARES Act to allow this flexibility for existing federal funding."

The U.S. Congress must appropriate $500 billion for all U.S. states and territories to help cover budget holes, the two governors said. And those funds should be separate from much-needed federal money for local governments.

“In the absence of unrestricted fiscal support of at least $500 billion from the federal government, states will have to confront the prospect of significant reductions to critically important services all across this country, hampering public health, the economic recovery and -- in turn -- our collective effort to get people back to work," wrote Hogan and Cuomo.
 

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Students File Class Action Seeking Tuition Reimbursement

Vie, 04/10/2020 - 14:05

Students attending Miami and Drexel universities are trying to take their respective institutions to court, arguing they should be reimbursed for costs including tuition after campuses closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a significant development in the tensions over how much students who had been studying on campuses should pay for a semester suddenly upended by social distancing and classes shifting to online or remote instruction. Many colleges and universities have been offering refunds of fees, room and board. But leaders have generally resisted tuition refunds, often arguing that they are still delivering the core educational product for which tuition pays.

The Miami and Drexel students filed class-action lawsuits Wednesday in federal Court in South Carolina, Law360 reported. They’re being represented by a law firm based in the same state, Anastopoulo Law Firm LLC.

Students allege breach of contract and unjust enrichment. They seek unspecified damages, fees and costs.

They argue the universities prevented students from receiving the benefits of learning in person when they temporarily closed campus. The institutions are “still offering some level of academic instruction via online classes,” but students are nonetheless being deprived certain benefits, they argued.

The students argue that they chose to attend particular institutions based on advertising promoting on-campus experiences. In addition to instruction, tuition covers other services like computer labs, libraries and networking opportunities, they argued.

“Moreover, the value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes will be diminished” student complaints said, according to Law 360.

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Civil Liberties Groups Push Title IX Rule Release

Vie, 04/10/2020 - 09:37

Two civil liberties groups have urged the U.S. Department of Education not to delay the release of proposed regulations under Title IX, the law prohibiting sex discrimination in institutions that receive federal funding, despite institutions’ occupation with the coronavirus pandemic.

The shift of colleges to primarily online operations means it is “an ideal time” for officials to change their policies to be in compliance with new Title IX regulations, the leaders of Speech First, a campus free speech organization, and the Independent Women’s Law Center, which advocates for reduced government control, wrote in a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Assistant Secretary Kenneth Marcus. The letter called attempts to delay the final regulations, which were proposed in November 2018, “a disingenuous attempt to put off indefinitely the implementation of rules that certain senators and special interest groups oppose on the merits.”

Several members of Congress and state attorneys general have called on DeVos to delay the final rule, suggesting that institutions are putting all efforts toward the basic needs of students during the coronavirus pandemic. But waiting on the rule would mean “biased investigatory procedures that stack the deck against the accused” will continue for students in the Title IX process at colleges, the letter said.

“All stakeholders in America’s institutions of higher education -- from students and parents to faculty and administrators -- deserve a just system, and they deserve it now,” Nicole Neily, president and founder of Speech First, said in a release. “At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has created much uncertainty in the education community, the department can provide clarity with respect to Title IX by issuing the regulations as soon as possible.”

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AAMC Wants Better COVID-19 Data Collection Because of Health Disparities

Vie, 04/10/2020 - 09:11

The Association of American Medical Colleges is calling for a national standardized data collection system to accurately capture information about race, ethnicity, social conditions and environmental conditions affecting the spread of illness.

That call comes in light of the coronavirus pandemic laying bare social, economic and health inequities, the AAMC said in a news release. The association went on to recommend capturing community-level data showing the neighborhoods to which COVID-19 patients are discharged, because county and zip code data are not specific enough to capture communities likely to be affected.

Those on the forefront of the pandemic response, such as state health departments, local public health departments, private testing labs and hospitals, should be engaged to prevent systems from becoming unnecessarily burdened, according to the AAMC.

“While health inequities related to COVID-19 are most certainly developing in real-time, the fact is that our current data collection efforts are inadequate and do not give us a complete picture,” Dr. Ross McKinney, AAMC chief scientific officer, said in a statement.

AAMC leaders added that better data on the current outbreak will enable officials to prevent additional catastrophic outcomes for vulnerable communities experiencing health disparities.

“Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans, the poor, the homeless, immigrants, and people who are incarcerated find themselves with fewer economic resources and with physical health conditions that make them and their communities more vulnerable to illnesses like COVID-19,” said Dr. David A. Acosta, AAMC chief diversity and inclusion officer, in a statement.

Members of the association include all 155 accredited U.S. medical schools, 17 accredited Canadian medical schools, almost 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems, and over 80 academic societies.

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Survey: Challenges for Online Tutoring Programs

Vie, 04/10/2020 - 08:08

Results from a survey conducted by Primary Research Group show how colleges have moved their tutoring programs online. The 32 respondents, primarily tutoring program directors from U.S. colleges and universities, described problems in training student tutors. They also provided details about the software their institutions are using in online tutoring and the extent of those programs.

Survey participants estimated that a mean of 38 percent of their students have more trouble taking online courses and may require extra support, according to the report from the research firm. The survey found that roughly 90 percent of participating institutions had moved all their courses to some form of online delivery. But only about 28 percent of respondents from private colleges said their institutions had an online tutoring program in place before the pandemic.

The survey also found that 72 percent of tutors at community colleges were working from home, the lowest amount among sectors covered by the research.

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