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Chronicle of Higher Education: Fairness in the Age of Betsy DeVos

The education secretary says taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for students who are trying to game loan forgiveness. But what about the students who play by the rules?

Alabama System to Open $250M Lines of Credit

Inside Higher Ed - ven, 04/03/2020 - 14:21

The University of Alabama System is moving to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in credit lines as a financial backstop against issues caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Executive Committee of the system’s Bord of Trustees approved securing $250 million in credit from two banks, Al.com reported.

“The resolutions passed today by the Board of Trustees Executive Committee give our System the capacity to provide an additional $250 million in liquidity if it were to be needed at any future point,” a system spokesperson told Al.com. “We consider this to be a form of insurance to assist our campuses and the UAB Health System as we respond to the COVID-19 crisis.”

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College Board Offers At-Home AP Exam Details

Inside Higher Ed - ven, 04/03/2020 - 13:55

The College Board will offer at-home test taking for its 2020 Advanced Placement exams, beginning on May 11. 

Students will be able to take the open-note exams on any device. They will be able to type or write and upload answers to one or two free-response questions for most exams, the College Board said in an email to AP instructors on Friday. Students worldwide will take each subject’s exam at the same time, and most will have 45 minutes to complete them, the email said. 

Scoring will continue to be on a scale of 1 to 5, and students cannot earn points for “content that can be found in textbooks or online,” the email said. The College Board is “confident that the vast majority of higher ed institutions will award college credit as they have in the past” and said the at-home test taking has support from hundreds of colleges.

“We want to give every student the chance to earn the college credit they’ve worked toward throughout the year,” Trevor Packer, senior vice president of AP and Instruction for the College Board, said in a statement. That’s why we quickly set up a process that’s simple, secure, and accessible.”

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Immigration Lawyers Sue to Keep Foreign Nationals in Lawful Status

Inside Higher Ed - ven, 04/03/2020 - 13:46

The American Immigration Lawyers Association filed suit against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services today seeking the immediate suspension of immigration benefit deadlines and the maintenance of status for individuals on nonimmigrant visas, a group that includes students and exchange scholars and foreign healthcare workers with temporary visas.

“This Court should declare that the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes [extraordinary circumstances] beyond the control of U.S. employers and foreign [nationals] seeking immigration benefits, including their legal representatives, and order USCIS to toll deadlines and the expiration dates for any individual’s lawful status, including the expiration dates for employment authorization where applicable,” the complaint states.

“In doing so, USCIS should ensure that all foreign nationals remain in lawful status, including but not limited to conditional lawful permanent residents, students, nonimmigrant workers, recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and those [with] Temporary Protected Status.”

A USCIS spokesperson declined to comment, saying it is the agency’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.

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Survey on Changes to Grading, Transcripts

Inside Higher Ed - ven, 04/03/2020 - 13:05

More than a quarter of colleges and universities (27 percent) are not making any changes to grading or transcript practices in response to the COVID-19 crisis, according to the results of a new survey from  the American Association for Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). The group surveyed its members and received responses from officials at more than 600 colleges, with 94 percent representing U.S. institutions.

Among respondents, 81 percent said they have moved to entirely online or remote classes for the remainder of the current term. And 23 percent have moved to online or remote classes for the summer, with an additional 38 percent considering such a move. Other highlights from the findings include:

  • 79 percent anticipate that degrees will be posted to students’ records in the normal timeframe.
  • 47 percent have canceled graduation ceremonies with no alternative -- 14 percent rescheduled for another date and 12 percent moved to a virtual option.
  • 44 percent are adhering to current policy on academic standing for the term -- 6 percent are suspending academic standing calculations for this term.
  • Most institutions are either giving or considering giving students the choice to change one or more of their courses to pass/fail or another institutional equivalent.

AACRAO is planning rapid-response surveys on admissions, transfer and international students.

“The responses will help us develop guidance on a range of topics to support institutions as they review and adjust practices in light of the impact of this unprecedented situation," Michael Reilly, the group's executive director, said in a statement.

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Northern Arizona Now Offering Room and Board Rebates

Inside Higher Ed - ven, 04/03/2020 - 12:45

Northern Arizona University is offering students a 25-percent credit for their spring housing and dining charges if they move out by April 16, the university's president announced today.

Arizona’s universities have canceled in-person classes and moved to online learning. Many students balked at a lack of refunds, signing petitions and, in at least one case, filing a class-action lawsuit demanding reimbursements against the state’s Board of Regents.

Northern Arizona is the last public institution in the state to take the step, according to the Arizona Daily Sun. Over a week ago, the University of Arizona offered 10 percent of housing costs, and Arizona State University said this week that it would offer $1,500 in nonrefundable credits for students.

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Chronicle of Higher Education: Medical Students Were Sidelined by Coronavirus. Now They’re Volunteering to Battle the Pandemic.

The Covid-19 Student Service Corps mobilized more than 800 volunteers to handle phone lines, teach classes, and help researchers.

‘Massive’ Increases in LMS and Synchronous Video Usage

Inside Higher Ed - ven, 04/03/2020 - 10:10

Learning management system and synchronous video tool usage saw their two biggest coronavirus-related spikes on March 23 and March 30, according to the blog Phil on Ed Tech. Canvas LMS usage increased more than 60 percent in terms of maximum concurrent users in the past two weeks, and video uploads surged. D2L Brightspace’s Virtual Classroom saw 25 times more activity. Blackboard’s Learn LMS log-ins increased fourfold, and its Collaborate virtual classroom activity increased by a factor of 36. Moodle and MoodleCloud as well as Schoolology were far busier than normal.

Significantly, synchronous video and virtual classroom usage have increased even more than LMS usage. Consultant Phil Hill’s analysis is that this reflects a "preference of teachers to first try to replicate their face-to-face class in virtual environments.” That preference is the defining feature of Phase 1 of the transition to remote teaching and learning, Hill said, citing a huge jump in Zoom videoconferencing overall (Zoom doesn’t share education-specific numbers).

Hill’s post includes a fascinating graphic of how the remote learning transition will progress, through 2021. One specific prediction? "I would expect to see a reduction in synchronous video usage" as professors realize its limitations, including for disadvantaged students, "and a further increase in core LMS usage," he said. At the same time, Hill said LMS providers will experience growing pains as they accommodate more and more users on existing subscriptions without gaining any corresponding revenue.

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Survey: DACA Recipients Face Job Loss and Other Stresses

Inside Higher Ed - ven, 04/03/2020 - 08:32

The Dream.US, an organization that provides scholarships to immigrant students known as Dreamers, released a survey Friday on the impact of COVID-19 on its scholars, the majority of whom are enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides work authorization and temporary protection against deportation to undocumented young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. More than 1,600 Dreamers completed the survey, representing a 44.6 percent response rate.

Of the 76 percent of respondents who work while in school, 80 percent reported loss of income due to reduced work hours or temporary or permanent job losses. Half of respondents said they’d temporarily lost their jobs, and 7 percent said they’d permanently lost them.

Fifty-eight percent of Dreamers said they needed mental health support. Dreamers said their top needs are help with rent or utilities (65 percent cited this) and help with food or meals (cited by 48 percent). About a fifth of scholars -- 21.8 percent -- said they need help with free or low-cost wireless internet access, and 13.6 percent said they needed a free, borrowed or low-cost computer.

Candy Marshall, the president of TheDream.US, said in a news release that the survey “not only reminds us that Dreamers are facing heightened health worries and economic anxieties due to the impact of Covid-19, but are doing so while their own futures remain uncertain due to the precarious state of DACA,” the future of which is under consideration by the Supreme Court.

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Survey: Library Employees at Community Colleges Less Likely to Work Remotely

Inside Higher Ed - ven, 04/03/2020 - 07:25

Primary Research Group Inc. has published data from a survey of 70 academic library directors and deans at U.S. institutions, including community colleges and four-year institutions. The survey, which was conducted during the last week of March, asked directors to describe how their libraries were adjusting to remote working, assisting in distance learning efforts, disinfecting library materials, teaching information literacy, altering materials spending and distribution to the new online audience, among other questions about challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Among respondents, roughly 96 percent said their institutions had moved all or most courses online until further notice. The rest said courses were canceled.

No libraries reported that an employee had been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the survey.

Community colleges and smaller institutions were more likely to be struggling with remote-work arrangements, the survey found. That finding squares with reporting by The Washington Post about community college libraries remaining open for students to use library computers and other technology they can't access elsewhere.

For example, only 35 percent of employees at community colleges were working remotely, compared to 75 percent of library employees at research universities. And the larger the college in terms of student enrollment, the greater the percentage of library employees were working remotely, the survey found.

At colleges with fewer than 1,500 students (full-time enrollment equivalent), only 44 percent of library employees were working from home. But 80 percent of library employees were working from home at colleges with enrollments of than 10,000 students.

The survey found that a plurality of respondents (about 50 percent) did not plan any major changes in their materials expenditures policies over the next six months. Primary Research Group said the survey was the second in a series, with a follow-up planned for release in May.

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Canada: some int’l students eligible for support

The PIE News - ven, 04/03/2020 - 07:22

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which provides temporary income support of CAN$500 a week for up to 16 weeks to those who stopped working because of COVID-19, has been confirmed available for international students if they meet certain requirements. 

According to a post on the Canadian government website, CERB is available to those resident in Canada who have stopped working because of COVID-19 and have not voluntarily quit their job; who had an income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to the date of their application; and who are or expect to be without employment or self-employment income for at least 14 consecutive days in the initial four-week period.

“If you are a student who had a job last year and were planning on working this summer you do not qualify for the benefit”

“Workers who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents – including temporary foreign workers and international students – may be eligible to receive the benefit if they meet the other eligibility requirements,” the government statement explained.

The statement explained that the benefit is “only available to individuals who stopped work as a result of reasons related to COVID-19”.

“If you are looking for a job but haven’t stopped working because of COVID-19, you are not eligible for the benefit.

“For example, if you are a student who had a job last year and were planning on working this summer you do not qualify,” it read.

Good news: The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is confirmed to be available for international studentshttps://t.co/OTw8as2Tzo

— CBIE | BCEI (@CBIE_BCEI) April 2, 2020

The announcement has raised concerns for some students in Canada, including graduating students looking for summer work who won’t qualify for the benefit.

“Extremely disappointing to hear that the CERB announced from the federal government does not support students who had intended to work this upcoming summer. This gap in eligibility means that students may not be able to afford rent or tuition in the fall semester,” wrote one academic officer on Twitter.

“Many students do not qualify for [Employment Insurance] and rely on seasonal summer employment as a means of collecting savings for the year ahead. Students who have already had many plans derailed, are left wondering how they will get by and/or if they will return to school in the fall.”

Speaking with The PIE News, Philip Shea, an international education specialist based in Ontario, suggested that many international students would be eligible considering their allocation of 20 hours per week part-time study.

Many working in Canada for four or five months would have earned around CAN$5,000, he estimated.

CBIE president and CEO, Larissa Bezo, described it as an “unprecedented time of challenge for students studying in Canada”, both domestic and international students.

“Education institutions across Canada are deeply committed to providing the necessary supports to international students presently studying in Canada, including academic accommodations, support for their mental well-being, emergency financial assistance for students in need, housing support, technical support, and the likes,” she told The PIE.

“In addition to the initiatives and efforts of individual educational institutions, we are encouraged with the responsiveness of policymakers in responding to the input of key stakeholders in working to quickly to introduce greater flexibility to existing immigration and other frameworks in Canada to support our students at this critical time.”

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Ivy League Won’t Extend Eligibility

Inside Higher Ed - ven, 04/03/2020 - 07:10

The Ivy League announced yesterday that it will not give an extra year of eligibility to athletes who play spring sports and had their seasons cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

That decision does not align with one made by the NCAA earlier this week to provide an extra year of eligibility. But it is in line with existing Ivy League policies, as the league has not allowed athletes to take part in sports as graduate students, the Associated Press reported.

“After a number of discussions surrounding the current circumstances, the Ivy League has decided the league’s existing eligibility policies will remain in place, including its longstanding practice that athletic opportunities are for undergraduates,” the league said in a statement.

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“For established providers of online learning, it’s business as usual”

The PIE News - ven, 04/03/2020 - 06:20

Carl Lygo, Vice-Chancellor and CEO of Arden University, explains how universities will need to adapt to a “new normal” of supporting students online following Covid-19.

“Now more than ever, the world needs higher education. Experts are on the front line fighting this pandemic, and science is the guide in this battle. In the inevitable economic recession that the world is entering, people will be looking to upskill and take refuge whilst the world adapts to a “new normal”.

The higher education industry has shown great resilience in dealing with the recessions of the past, and I am sure the entrepreneurial zeal of the sector will shine through to support people in their hour of need.

“I am sure the entrepreneurial zeal of the sector will shine through to support people in their hour of need”

Arden University is currently delivering 100% online education worldwide supported by an amazing team of people all fully working from home. Our experts have carried on throughout this pandemic so that our students are able to make the most of the global “working from home” philosophy.

Therefore, there is absolutely no need for our students to put their careers on hold. We have continued developing the university, offering new degree programmes targeting the jobs of the future.

The majority of our students study purely online, but we also have teaching centres in Berlin, Birmingham, London and Manchester where students study partly online and face to face. We have replaced these face to face classes with online face to face teaching, training all faculty on the use of our preferred software within the space of a couple of days. Communication has been the key throughout the organisation.

Traditional degree providers who rely on the uniqueness of their real estate, their halls of residence, and whom have a de-centralised approach to the delivery of teaching are really going to struggle to adapt. I have seen this for myself with my children’s schooling. I have five children aged nine through to 16, and I have been witnessing their schools attempts to deliver online education.

“International students are going to ask tough questions about how their university dealt with the coronavirus”

The teachers have been a bit reluctant to embrace new technology, hardly offering any face to face online classes, and the interaction has been minimal. My youngest boy said to me that it is “fake school” because it is online. I then showed him an Arden University online class and he asked me why his school could not be like this.

The truth is that it takes time to develop a proper online pedagogy, but I am hopeful that out of this pandemic there will arise a widespread acceptance that online can be even better than traditional campus-based education. Campus-based universities are probably hoping that the consequences of this pandemic are going to be over in the next six weeks, but I just don’t see how that is realistic.

Even if there are not second and third waves of infection as countries come in and out of lock downs, students are not necessarily going to want to travel immediately. We are now always going to be thinking about the next mutation of the virus, and when will the next pandemic happen.

The new “normal” for the world is going to be very different to the globalisation we have been familiar with. I am sure we will still see flows of students travelling to study, but it will take time to build confidence again.

International students are going to ask tough questions about how their university dealt with the coronavirus. Were students evicted from their accommodation and made to feel unwanted?

The German government has announced a financial aid package for international students as well as automatic visa extensions. I think students will want to reduce the risk of being caught in such a pandemic again, and will seek more innovative ways of completing a degree.

I was one of the first to sign up as a NHS Volunteer, and we are supporting our colleagues at Arden University to also volunteer on full pay. It is so important at this time to support the wider communities that we all belong to.

Education is about helping others and our team have devoted their careers to helping students achieve their ambitions. It is only natural we want to help the NHS at this time.

2021 is going to be the year for those who have seized the opportunity and adapted. In my office I have a framed quote from Winston Churchill: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Carl Lygo, Vice-Chancellor and CEO of Arden University

Previous columns:

“We will survive. We have to”: View from AIFS, Bill Gertz

How do you show solidarity virtually?, Ruth Arnold


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NZ unis brace for significant drop in int’l students

The PIE News - ven, 04/03/2020 - 05:24

After closing its borders to most travellers in mid-March, New Zealand’s educational institutions are bracing for the impact of a drop in international student numbers.

Student visa holders can no longer enter the country unless an exception is made by Immigration New Zealand, while those currently in New Zealand have seen their visas automatically extended to September 25.

The country had recently reported an uptick in international student numbers at universities – post-study work rights had made it a more popular destination with Indian students, for example – with numbers growing 9.8% in 2018.

“Our major issue is not knowing how long the borders will be closed”

“New Zealand universities are facing the situation where they will have at least a quarter to one-third of their international students not turning up this year,” Universities New Zealand’s chief executive Chris Whelan told The PIE News.

“This will have a carryover effect next year, with uncertainty around borders opening and changing economic circumstances in the countries many of our international students come from.”

While Whelan added that universities are trying to adapt by “moving term dates, moving to block courses, and moving all learning online”, uncertainty over when students can return makes planning difficult.

“Our major issue is not knowing how long the borders will be closed. We are doing scenario planning but it is too early to say anything at this stage,” he said.

Immigration New Zealand has encouraged students to contact their education provider to discuss learning arrangements, adding that online attendance will be recorded.

“Providers have been agile and innovative in their responses. Many have moved to online delivery to continue to provide teaching and learning,” Grant McPherson, chief executive of Education New Zealand, told The PIE.

“Government agencies are also working closely together to identify and resolve issues for students and the sector. This includes developing modelling of future scenarios.”

In terms of language schools, the 22 members of English New Zealand usually enrol about 17,000 students a year.

With a little over 3,000 still in classes and the prospect of new students low – as is the case for language centres in the UK – the sector is hoping for extra government support.

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Australian PM says no financial assistance, agency groups work for wider support

The PIE News - ven, 04/03/2020 - 04:41

Australia’s PM Scott Morrison has said during a press statement that international students, if they cannot support themselves, should consider returning home – pointing out that a requirement of visa issuance is showing proof of funds to support their first year of study.

More than a million people in Australia on temporary visas, including many international students, are excluded from recently unveiled government assistance packages. 

Morrison said that exceptions had been made however for some temporary residents: “For those backpackers in Australia who are nurses or doctors, or have other critical skills that can really help us during this crisis, then there will be opportunities for them,” said Morrison.

He was referring to a policy move that enables two profiles of student to work beyond their visa-allocated part-time hours: nursing students working in aged care, and for major grocery retailers.

“It is not an unreasonable expectation of the government that students would be able to fulfil the commitment that they gave [to be able to afford first year of study],” said Morrison, speaking to the press.

His statement comes in a week which saw active campaigning from agency associations representing big student communities in the country.

The Association of Australian Education Representatives in Nepal had been advocating for Nepalese students in Australia to be included in government assistance packages and given AUS$1,000 to help them cope with the fallout of the coronavirus epidemic.

The association’s president Dwiraj Sharma said that many Nepalese students in Australia have lost their part-time jobs. Nepal is the third-largest source of international students in the country.

“[It] will place an additional burden on them which could well result in their financial ruin”

According to Sharma, the Nepalese economy is in “free-fall” and the likelihood of parents of Nepalese students in Australia having to pay the fees of their children “will place an additional burden on them which could well result in their financial ruin”. 

The confirmation from Morrison came after the Australian government launched a $189 billion coronavirus economic rescue package to support small businesses, welfare recipients and those who lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic.

At Austrade, Rebecca Hall acknowledged that their job was not to set policy but to work to support international student communities.

She said there was a lot of work going on behind the scenes to ensure that international students could be supported during a difficult time – and that accommodation operators also had a seat at the Global Reputation Taskforce working to achieve this.

“We do know that students and temporary workers are significantly impacted in terms of jobs in hospitality and other retail areas closing, as many Australians are, of course,” she told The PIE News.

“The student support services offered by institutions, but also augmented by state and territory partners, are going to be really critical in the coming months. And we at Austrade are meeting with the states and territories on a weekly basis, working through practical and creative ways that we can support students.”



Meanwhile, AAERI in India has launched a petition calling for a delay to the July intake in Australia to allow students in India and Nepal more time to prepare to study abroad, sit English language tests in some cases and access loans, given the global lockdown and impact on usual preparation services.

Ravi Lochan Singh, president of AAERI India, commented on Morrison’s recent statement.

“The PM is factually correct that international students should have availability of costs for living without being dependent on part-time jobs,” he said.

“However it is also a reality that the Covid-19 situation is unexpected and it is possible that there are some international students who are not able to receive the funds too suddenly from their home countries.”

“Some universities have funded the cost of laptops to enable online mode of study”

Lochan Singh said however that universities had been very responsive to the evolving situation. “Universities have put aside funds to assist the international students and some have also funded the cost of laptops and such to enable online mode of study,” he told The PIE News.

“AAERI sincerely thanks the universities who have come forward to help the international students.

“The AAERI petition has been very well received,” he added. “I have had discussions on this with several university policy makers and am told that most universities are determined to either defer the July intake and/or have an additional intake in the later part of the year.”

He added that some institutions want to offer the July intake as an online option to new students, where the students join the study on campus once the travel restrictions are withdrawn.

“However, Department of Home Affairs in a recent webinar informed that there is no visa required for online study if undertaken offshore and there was clear indication that fresh visas will not be issued till the travel restrictions are [updated],” he revealed.

“Thus to expect new students to start their study in an online mode even before the visa is issued for their travel later in the year is possibly expecting too much. I would strongly recommend that the July intake is deferred to September or October 2020.”

Lochan Singh added that the Indian community had also been extending assistance to international students. “Several Indian restaurants are offering free takeaway food for affected international students,” he related.

Additional reporting by Will Nott.

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CEG Digital & Uni of Portsmouth announce p’ship

The PIE News - ven, 04/03/2020 - 02:29

OPM provider CEG Digital and the UK’s University of Portsmouth have announced has announced the establishment of Portsmouth Online with the aim of delivering “high quality online postgraduate degree programs to students around the world”.

“The partnership will help us deliver high-quality online education to new student cohorts”

From early 2021, the University of Portsmouth, through Portsmouth Online, intends to offer an initial portfolio of postgraduate taught programs purposely designed for working professionals and primarily delivered online with opportunities for face-to-face workshops.

The initial program suite is going to cover curricular areas of data analytics, construction project management, resilience management, international human resource management and cybercrime.

The programs will be led by Portsmouth academic staff, supported by specialist tutors offering 24/7 support.

“The university has ambitious strategic objectives to widen its reach and expand its presence in international educational markets. I am confident that the partnership with CEG Digital will help us deliver high-quality online education to new student cohorts,” explained Paul Hayes, deputy vice-chancellor.

“This partnership shows our determination to grow the reputation of the university internationally and be recognised for academic excellence that helps create the workforce of the future.”

Geoff Webster, managing director of CEG Digital, added: “We are really excited to be working with Portsmouth and helping them fully access the global online learning market for the benefit of prospective students.

He said that global demand for post-secondary education is expected to rise to 263 million students by 2025.

“Universities will not be able to meet this level of demand by traditional delivery. Through our collaborative partnership model, we provide a unique combination of financial resources, pedagogical expertise in a sophisticated digital environment, global market knowledge and an international salesforce.”

“This partnership will significantly extend the range of digital learning opportunities across all levels of our study programs,” added Hayes.

“Increased digital innovation and flexibility will become an important feature of our on and off-campus courses, which will make our outstanding and innovative education available to students around the world, even if they don’t study on our campus.”

Universities have shown increased interest in developing online courses over the last few years, particularly this year due to the coronavirus outbreak which has led institutions turning to edtech to continue classes.

Most that do so opt to work with outside providers who offer a range of services including recruiting, marketing and technological know-how to develop courses.

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Faculty face uphill battle adapting to needs of today's students

Inside Higher Ed - ven, 04/03/2020 - 00:00

Faculty are crucial for students. They serve as instructors and mentors. They connect students with a network that will help them succeed and get good jobs in the future.

But they can also get in the way.

As the student population shifts away from the traditional 18-year-old heading off to live in a dorm to students who are older and lower income, institutions and their faculty members are struggling to find mutually agreeable ways to support nontraditional students.

That means colleges and universities struggle with how to motivate faculty to serve different students. And some faculty members struggle with how to adapt.

“When I hear a faculty member complaining about students all the time, I know that’s a signal for discussing retirement on the horizon,” said Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C.

While the big-name colleges still enroll plenty of stereotypical students, the institutions that serve the bulk of students have seen changes.

The numbers are clear: 37 percent of today’s students are older than 25, according to information collected by Higher Learning Advocates. Almost two-thirds, 64 percent, work while in college. Another quarter or so are parenting. About half, 49 percent, are financially independent.

Almost one in three, 31 percent, live at or below the federal poverty level.

And those were the numbers before the novel coronavirus shattered the country's economy. The full effects of the virus aren't yet clear, but it seems likely to add financial pressures on students in the coming months and years.

The issue of aligning faculty skills with students' needs goes beyond the stereotypical trope of an old, cranky professor who doesn’t like change, though. Challenges to overcome can be as simple as the hidden language of academia and faculty assuming all students have the same understanding of common terms on campus.

How does a student know the meaning of office hours if the student has never before heard the term?

The issue might be carelessness or thoughtlessness -- like assuming students don’t have responsibilities outside of their coursework. It might also be unintentionally carrying on one mode of teaching for years without analyzing why students are dropping out of courses.

The answer to this is not simple. Getting faculty to adapt to the times takes planning, buy-in and, most importantly, money.

But it’s necessary. For faculty who seem unwilling or unable to adapt, McGuire tends to have conversations about whether they still feel excitement about teaching. If professors don’t want to explore new pedagogies or approaches to teaching, that’s a sign they’re worn out, she said.

Some policy experts, institutional leaders and advocates believe higher education must change the way it trains, hires and promotes its faculty. Others say the blame is misplaced and instead point to structural issues like declining numbers of tenured positions, the importance of leadership and the need for more investment in teaching and learning.

Whatever the case, institutional change is now a necessity, as the demographics for students and the general population shift. The number of white students is decreasing as the number of Hispanic students increases, among other changes.

Higher education is facing an enrollment cliff by 2026, when the full impact of a declining birth rate will hit colleges. The last decade was a precursor to these changes. Enrollment across postsecondary institutions has been falling since 2010.

To combat this, institutions are turning to certain segments of the population that seem like potential enrollment gold mines. About 36 million American adults have some college credit but no degree, prompting marketing companies to sell services to colleges designed to target this demographic. Make no mistake -- most teens still plan to enroll in college. But many will bring with them different life experiences from the traditional college students of yore, who tended to rely on family for support instead of working full-time themselves.

However, the majority of faculty are privileged. Most are white men. Those who are on the track for tenure are older than the average American worker, placing them further away from the modern-day experiences of their students. While there have been some gains in diversity, most of them stem from contingent faculty.

This challenge is now more important to understand than ever, as the novel coronavirus upends higher education, leaves many students unemployed and takes away services like childcare.

‘Hidden Culture’

Some faculty don’t recognize how the demographics, and thus the needs, of students are changing, according to Davis Jenkins, a senior research scholar at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.

When Jenkins works with faculty and advisers to map out a student’s journey through a college, “it’s just shocking how many barriers the student faces,” he said.

At issue is a gap between many professors’ own experience and that of their students.

“You have professors, potentially, who make the assumption that your schooling is the same as my schooling,” said Sean Morris, director of the Digital Pedagogy Lab at the University of Colorado at Denver. “Even within a generation, that’s changed.”

It’s something all types of institutions will have to address, Jenkins said, as enrollments decline and too many students leave college without degrees.

Some colleges have already recognized the need to change. Since the 1980s, Trinity Washington has been catering to what McGuire calls post-traditional students.

“Over time, we’ve learned a couple of things,” she said.

Those include hiring faculty “who are capable of teaching the students we have, not the students they wish they had.” They are willing to teach outside of typical daytime hours and can work with students who may need leeway at times.

The last piece is “compassionate rigor,” McGuire said.

When students set foot on campus, they encounter a hidden culture.

“For adult students, you have the added dimension of stresses from work and family life,” she said. “At the same time, students need to be disciplined, so what’s the balance between helping and being taken advantage of?”

An example could be giving students one free pass for redoing an assignment or retaking a test.

Beyond understanding the external obligations students have, faculty need to understand what may pose challenges inside the academy. Colleges as a whole often take for granted that students will arrive on campus already knowing how things work, said Anthony Abraham Jack, assistant professor of education at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

Sometimes, it’s an unintentional systemic issue. For example, a college dean once told Jack about a student who thought office hours were a time for professors to work and not be bothered.

“When students set foot on campus, they encounter a hidden culture,” Jack said. He will often train faculty and staff to recognize this when giving talks on campuses.

Other times, the words are more personal. Students who are also parents will hear their professor tell the class that they can take on extra work because they don’t have “real” responsibilities. Or professors will get angry with students for not buying all of the -- often expensive -- books for a course.

“The gap in understanding is still prevalent,” Jack said. “You have to have a cultural shift in conjunction with a structural shift, especially in the context of the changing student body.”

Some blame the reluctance to change on what they call deficit thinking. If faculty expect students who don’t fit traditional molds to fail, then they are much more likely to fail.

“A lot of times, faculty don’t think about where students are coming from,” said Audrey Dow, senior vice president of the Campaign for College Opportunity. If faculty see a student falling asleep in class but don’t know that student just worked a 10-hour shift, they might assume the student isn’t college-ready. But that student might just need support, Dow said.

“When we look at students and say, ‘Gosh, they’re showing up, they want an education, how do we help them get it?’ that’s when success can happen,” she said.

Supporting Faculty to Support Students

Some say higher education must look at structural issues before it places the blame on faculty. They balk at the idea that faculty are the primary problem.

“I think that that is a very dangerous framing of what is a very real challenge that needs to be addressed,” said Alison Kadlec, a founding partner at higher education consulting firm Sova Solutions. “From what we know from our work, as well as from research in related areas, the people who are closest to students are [faculty]. In any institution, they are also the single greatest reservoir of commitment.”

One of their biggest obstacles is the conditions faculty work under, she said, because those conditions can easily preclude them from being truly effective. Systematic adjunctification, for example, makes faculty feel devalued and makes it difficult for them to go the extra mile because of low pay and instability.

For faculty who work contingently, it can be hard to do creative work, said Jesse Stommel, a senior lecturer of digital studies at the University of Mary Washington and executive director of Hybrid Pedagogy, a journal for digital pedagogy. The stresses from that precarious job position, which often provides little security and doesn’t pay well, make experimentation with pedagogy and teaching difficult.

“When we defund public education, when we make the work of teaching increasingly precarious, we make it extraordinarily difficult to do this work,” he said.

Institutions should help faculty understand who their students are, said Sherri Hughes, assistant vice president of professional learning at the American Council on Education. But faculty still hold responsibility for teaching them.

Saying “we shouldn’t put it all on the faculty member,” she said, “suggests that nontraditional students are a burden, and I don’t think that’s true.”

Understanding the different practices, tools and approaches to teaching is important for teaching all students, not just nontraditional students, she added.

At Trinity Washington, the university has won grants to support those kinds of efforts. A Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant to support women of color in science, for example, provided resources for science faculty to revise their curriculum and get training.

The reaction so far has been positive, according to Cynthia DeBoy, associate professor of biology at Trinity Washington and a director of the grant programs. A training about motivating students held on a Saturday attracted all science faculty members, and they stayed until after 5 p.m. It led to the creation of mentor moment courses at the university, which focus on different life skills, like self-advocacy and applying to internships, for each year of a student’s time in college.

Ultimately, colleges need to hire more full-time faculty, according to Adrianna Kezar, director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California. Those who are full-time can do what many contingent faculty don’t have the supports to do: hold more office hours, stay after classes to have conversations with students and support outside activities like clubs.

“Research shows, for first-generation, low-income and underserved minority students, that faculty members who are supportive are by far more important than things like advising,” Kezar said. “Just at a time where the student body really needs the faculty, we’ve really taken away the ability for faculty to support them.”

‘We’re the Ones on the Ground’

Large-scale changes that could improve student success at scale often face opposition from faculty members, policy experts say.

One of the most obvious examples is the battle over developmental education reforms. In several states, faculty unions have fought against legislation to adopt models like corequisite courses.

“What happens in the classrooms could be most critical for students,” said Wil Del Pilar, vice president of higher education policy and practice at the Education Trust. “Faculty need to be willing to change their pedagogy based on students, or be more flexible.”

In California, legislation that allowed more community college students to skip remedial courses and instead take courses that would transfer with credit to four-year institutions was met with opposition by some faculty.

Faculty lamented what they call legislative intrusion. The reason why is simple, said Susan Holl, professor emeritus at California State University, Sacramento, and chair of a subcommittee of the Faculty Senate.

“We’re the ones on the ground,” she said. “All educational strategies don’t work for all students.”

It’s frustrating to see legislators think they know best, Holl said, especially when they push for change very quickly. The faculty she works with are very committed to student success, she added.

“The pushback comes from people telling faculty how best to do their business, when we know how to create programs and curricula,” she said.

Holl suggested that advocates go to faculty governance bodies first with proposals for significant changes, such as developmental education.

“Although we appreciate that people are well meaning,” she said, “we would like any legislators, any people who hold the purse strings, before they make any rules or legislation or listen to advocacy folks, to make sure they work with the faculty at whatever level to understand what the real issues are on the ground.”

The pushback can also be unintentional. It’s unfair to vilify faculty who teach using lectures, because it’s often an issue of awareness, said Josh Eyler, director of faculty development at the University of Missouri.

“We have a ton of research on how people learn and the teaching strategies that are most effective in maximizing that learning,” Eyler said. “To the degree that we can send that message and spread that word and shift the culture of the university toward teaching strategies rooted in that evidence, the better we’ll be.”

To that end, institutions should incentivize and support faculty in learning more about their craft, Eyler said.

Stommel thinks faculty should engage students more in their courses. The surest way to do so is to not design courses ahead of time, but rather ask students to help construct them.

“When we lock that stuff in stone before we’ve interacted with the students, then we’re not actually building a learning experience for the students we actually have,” he said. “We’re building a learning experience for an imaginary student.”

While some might assume this model takes the rigor out of college, Stommel said it can do the opposite. If students take ownership of their learning, they will put in more effort and be more engaged, he said, whereas it can be easier for them to “go on autopilot” while following someone else’s goals and trajectories.

A Small but Vocal Group

Many higher education experts said they believe the issue of faculty being a barrier to student success arises from a “small but vocal group” of professors. “And they have tenure,” said Morris, the professor from CU Denver.

Morris studies pedagogy and learning, and he contends that the typical way college faculty teach -- lecture style -- won’t work with the “new traditional” student.

“There’s a divide between teachers and students in the classroom, and that needs to start to break down,” he said. “Traditionally, the teacher is a taskmaster.”

If learning were more cooperative and collaborative, then nontraditional students could bring their life experiences into the class, Morris said. When this can’t happen, faculty have to take special measures to know what’s going on in their lives and what challenges they may have.

Most faculty also never learn how to teach, according to Del Pilar. Institutions, he said, tend to value faculty’s ability to be content experts rather than teachers.

“They are not trained to meet the different learning outcomes or style of everyone, or the unique needs of students,” he said. “They’re trained on, ‘How do I get the information across? Here’s how I learned it, here’s how you’ll learn it.’”

Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit network of community colleges focused on student success, is working to address this issue by encouraging its members to invest in centers focused on teaching and learning, said Karen Stout, the organization’s CEO and president. These centers can teach faculty how to empathize with the myriad of experiences today’s students bring to the table, as well as raise awareness about nonacademic supports on campus so faculty can correctly refer students.

There’s a divide between teachers and students in the classroom, and that needs to start to break down.

Both Morris and Stout said most faculty want to learn about effective teaching methods.

“If you engage them in conversations about relational teaching, they eat it up,” Morris said. “Because they go into a room and their students are staring at them, and they have to try to make learning occur.”

At Miami Dade College, a community college in Florida that won the 2019 Aspen Prize for College Excellence, faculty have access to the Center for Institutional and Organizational Learning.

Julie Alexander, vice provost of academic affairs at the college, cited hundreds of opportunities for training each year. Academic affairs also has personnel dedicated to the long-term strategy for faculty development. Adjunct faculty are paid to attend mandatory training, and some voluntary opportunities are also paid, Alexander said.

“One thing that I hear a lot from students is that they feel like this is a very receptive environment, and that the faculty are aware of not only their capacities, but also that there are challenges outside of academia,” she said.

Some also question the focus of tenure and the reward structure on which it’s built. For example, at institutions with a heavy research focus, faculty members can lack incentives to strive to perfect their teaching strategies.

It’s difficult to quantify effective teaching, said Sally Johnstone, president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, while it’s “easy to count publications.”

Still, if institutions want more effective teaching, they have to promote it from the top down. When Morris was a graduate student teaching a class at the University of Colorado at Boulder, he said he was told by his department chair to not worry about the teaching, but instead focus on his own studies.

“I was teaching 50 undergrads who needed a teacher, but I was told not to care,” he said.

While it’s easy to assume research universities would emphasize research over teaching, and vice versa with community colleges, Johnstone said the focus varies across colleges.

“It has to do with the leadership of the institution and how committed they and the board are to really having the focus on student success,” she said. “If that’s there, then there are other things they can do for all students to be successful.”

Changes Done Right

Many colleges are starting to make changes to address these issues as the current environment forces them to innovate or risk failure.

There are different approaches to how to involve faculty in that change.

“When you talk to people who are trying to create institutional change, engaging faculty in that change makes it more sustainable, but it also makes it a longer game,” Del Pilar said. “Do you implement what you can today to help students now, or play the long game to help students in six years? I think the answer is both-and.”

At Georgia State University, administrators took this approach and first addressed issues that didn’t require faculty involvement.

“When we launched these efforts over a decade ago now, the focus was on the university trying to correct the problems that the university itself was creating,” said Tim Renick, senior vice president for student success at Georgia State. “We wanted to ask how we were the problem.”

Some of the first big projects included improving academic advising, changing the distribution of financial aid and launching a chat bot to help students more immediately with problems, he said.

While those initiatives were done without faculty, Renick said, it didn’t create resentment. Rather, he said, it showed “that this was not an attempt to attack them. It was an effort to show that we all have to address issues.”

Do you implement what you can today to help students now, or play the long game to help students in six years? I think the answer is both-and.

Because the changes started by looking at the problems at the university level, rather than shoving blame onto faculty, Renick said it encouraged faculty to spearhead their own projects.

There still was pushback, he said. But it tended to come from a small group.

“I think most faculty come into higher education, and certainly most faculty come to a place like Georgia State, because they care about making a difference,” Renick said. “In many cases, the university deadens that idealism because it’s such a big bureaucracy, and younger faculty want to change things, but they can’t.”

Once faculty saw how the changes -- like moving to low- or no-cost materials or using predictive analytics -- helped improve the graduation rate, they once again had hope that they could make things better, he said.

The approach has worked, according to Michelle Brattain, chair of the Senate Executive Committee and chair of the history department at Georgia State

“The university has not demanded anything. They’ve persuaded [faculty],” Brattain said. “I think if the university put all the responsibility for student success on faculty, it wouldn’t have gotten buy-in.”

Use of data analytics also convinced faculty members to take the administration’s work seriously, she said. The administration’s willingness to help with problems students face also sets the tone for the university overall.

For example, Brattain said, one student broke his glasses and couldn’t afford new ones, and he couldn’t do work because of it. She emailed a vice president at the college for help, and that staff member found a grant for the student to get new glasses.

“No problem is too small for them to be concerned about it,” she said. “It makes a huge difference.”

Many believe that including faculty in student success initiatives is key. Stout, of Achieving the Dream, said she sees faculty leading the change in many places.

“I don’t believe that faculty are the barrier for nontraditional student success,” Stout said. “I believe the systems and structures in our colleges are the barriers.”

One example is Pierce College in Washington, where faculty are now using data to improve student success at the course level.

The change started when the institution decided to focus heavily on student success, said Greg Brazell, director of employee engagement, learning and development at the college. It instigated a change in how the college provides professional development to its faculty.

“Before, it was the traditional, one-and-done, just-in-time model,” Brazell said. To make development more sustainable, the college created action research project opportunities for faculty. This year’s theme for projects is equity.

Faculty are becoming evidence-based practitioners on teaching practices, he said. They can look at data at the course level to determine which students are not succeeding and why that might be. Maybe students can’t get homework done during the week, or maybe the faculty member is teaching a particular lesson too quickly.

As a result, the college has raised its three-year graduation rate from 18.7 percent to 36.2 percent since 2010.

“The current culture is very open,” he said. “It’s all about student success.”

I believe the systems and structures in our colleges are the barriers.

McGuire, president of Trinity Washington, said it’s important for university leadership to find “champions for change” among the senior faculty, as well as provide incentives through paid training or grant opportunities.

“You do have to fund faculty time and recognize that there’s a value worth paying for,” she said.

The university has a committee that acts as a “faculty salon” where professors will present their work on student success, which can naturally bring about change.

One discussion centered on whether faculty should accommodate a student who had a childcare problem and needed to bring their child to class for a day, McGuire said. Half said yes and half said no, and then they discussed it.

“Everyone went away realizing they should be humane and let someone do that if they need it for an emergency,” she said.

While institutions have been focusing on student success over the past decade, Kezar, of the Pullias Center, said the next area of focus is student services.

“The big move for the next 10 years really needs to be, ‘OK, we’ve done some really good thinking about students and some of the things that shape and affect them, but we haven’t really considered the classroom,’” she said. “That has always been left out of the student success movement. That’s what we need to focus on now.”

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Zoombombing isn’t going away, and it could get worse

Inside Higher Ed - ven, 04/03/2020 - 00:00

A brief exchange is all it took for one student to completely derail an online accounting test at the University of Arizona yesterday.

“Don’t make it too obvious at the start that you are trolling, just ease into it lmao.”

“I got you, me and two other friends are joining.”

Armed with a Zoom videoconference ID, the trolls got to work. Their efforts to disrupt the test resulted in its cancellation. Students have been asked to complete the test in their own time, the university confirmed.

This incident is just one of many disruptions to plague higher education in recent weeks as quarantined keyboard warriors seek to wreak havoc on classes that are suddenly being offered remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Such trolling, which first drew widespread attention last week, has been dubbed Zoombombing. Some of the disruption to online classrooms is random. Trolls playing “Zoom roulette” simply type a random 10-digit number into Zoom -- the videoconferencing service that many colleges and universities have relied on to move classes to remote instruction on short notice. Then the trolls see where they land.

More often than not, it seems the attacks on higher education classes are targeted. Many students are willingly sharing details of upcoming conference calls in online chat rooms and message boards. Those details often include passwords to private meetings scheduled by users with access to paid Zoom educational accounts.

On social media platforms, users with hundreds of thousands of followers have openly called on students to share details of upcoming classes so that they may disrupt them. And there appears to be no shortage of volunteers.

In “best of” compilation videos on YouTube and in live Zoombombing incidents witnessed by Inside Higher Ed, intruders frequently pose as students before taking over classes.

Some of the disrupters launch into ridiculous lines of questioning, perform supposedly comedic skits or shout or breathe heavily into their microphones. Another popular tactic is to blast loud noises and music, a method known as “ear rape.”

Often the intrusions take a far more sinister turn, with trolls sharing explicit images, streaming pornography, drawing crude images over instructors’ slides, exposing themselves or repeatedly expressing racial slurs -- sometimes aimed at specific instructors or students.

This harassment of minority instructors and students is reminiscent of the Gamergate movement, which describes the sustained misogynistic campaigns waged against women in the gaming community.

Zoombombing attacks, or Zoom raids, are planned on services such as Discord, a communication platform popular among gamers. In a Discord group accessed by Inside Higher Ed, online trolls seemed to delight in the confusion and distress they caused instructors, some of whom, they gleefully reported, had burst into tears. Some members of the group described themselves as wishing to pursue “good old-fashioned trolling” and said they drew the line at “really fucked-up shit” such as sharing child pornography or repeating the N-word over and over. “That’s boring,” one user wrote.

A single intruder can be quickly kicked out by meeting hosts, if they know how to do it. But coordinated attacks by dozens of trolls make it nearly impossible for instructors to take back control. Many Zoombombed classes descend into chaos, forcing instructors to simply shut them down.

Dozens of resources advising instructors on how to secure their videoconference calls have been published in the past week as awareness of Zoombombing grows, including this one from the company itself. The University of California, Berkeley's information security office shared this detailed prevention guide. On Twitter, instructors also shared tips and tricks to prevent intrusions.

There are several simple steps that instructors can take to minimize intrusions, including locking meetings so that no new attendees can join once classes have started and muting all attendees. Adding a password for meetings is a simple deterrent, provided students don’t share the passwords. At the University of Arizona, a spokeswoman said the institution is now advising all instructors to screen call participants in virtual waiting rooms before they start their classes.

As quickly as instructors adapt to best practices however, trolls are finding workarounds. On a recent Reddit thread, one user shared that changing your username to “iPhone” or “Samsung” may fool instructors screening participants into thinking that you are a student calling into the meeting from your cellphone, rather than accessing the call through your computer.

The escalating problem of Zoombombing isn’t exclusive to education. AA meetings, prayer groups and book readings for children have been recently commandeered by Zoombombers. A small number of people have started referring to these trolls as “Zoombies” -- a fitting term for the apocalyptic atmosphere of a nation gripped by a global pandemic.

“It’s important for faculty to understand that they are not alone in dealing with this,” said Liz Gross, founder and CEO of Campus Sonar, a company that develops social media strategies for higher education institutions.

Campus Sonar has been tracking public online conversations about higher education and the impact of the coronavirus online since March. The term "Zoombombing" didn’t show up in the company’s data set until March 21, Gross said.

“It had minimal mentions until March 31 and April 1, when we detected a threefold increase in Zoombombing mentions.”

Gross predicts that the trend will "likely get worse before it gets better" as online groups start to copy each other's Zoombombing antics.

While some students have complained about the disruption caused by Zoombombing on Twitter and other online forums, others seem to find the practice amusing, Gross said. Some trolls may be engaging in Zoombombing just for the sake of causing disruption, but others may see it as an opportunity to promote certain political agendas, including spreading extreme right-wing views through a practice known as "dropping redpills."

“I found one concerning message on 4chan from March 31 in a thread about politics suggesting that since millions of students across America are in online classes on Zoom, 4chan users could get into those classrooms and ‘drop redpills,’” said Gross. “They went on further to quip that they could ‘redpill entire schools’ if only a few committed to it.”

The link between Zoombombing and criminal activity was highlighted this week by an advisory from the FBI encouraging people who are the victims of videoconference hijacking to report it as a cybercrime.

Increased use of videoconferencing tools by higher education institutions, the private sector and government agencies in the wake of the coronavirus could be exploited by cybercriminals to steal sensitive information and target individuals, the FBI also warned.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, reported that as of March 30, it has received and reviewed more than 1,200 complaints related to COVID-19 scams. These include phishing campaigns targeting first responders, distributed denial of service attacks against government agencies and ransomware attacks at medical facilities.

These same groups “will target businesses and individuals working from home via telework software vulnerabilities, education technology platforms and new business email compromise schemes,” the FBI predicted.

The rise of Zoombombing provides an opportunity for institutions to talk about the importance of data security and privacy online, said Brian Kelly, director of the cybersecurity program at higher education IT membership group Educause.

Despite many negative news articles criticizing weaknesses in the Zoom videoconferencing platform this week, Kelly says the product is not “inherently less secure” than other videoconferencing tools. It is simply under increased scrutiny since so many people are now using it.

“Zoom has been very responsive to the criticism,” said Kelly. "They aren’t circling the wagons."

He noted that earlier this week, Zoom changed the default settings for users with educational Zoom licenses so that only hosts can share content, and the company is continuously making updates. “There is some risk with all of these platforms. The trick is learning to mitigate that risk,” he said.​

Zoom's CEO, Eric Yuan, wrote in a blog post Wednesday that the company would be focusing exclusively on bolstering its security and privacy over the next 90 days.

"We appreciate the scrutiny and questions we have been getting -- about how the service works, about our infrastructure and capacity, and about our privacy and security policies. These are questions that will make Zoom better, both as a company and for all its users," wrote Yuan.

"We recognize that we have fallen short of the community's -- and our own -- privacy and security expectations. For that, I am deeply sorry and I want to share what we are doing about it."

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Financial woes of states threaten free college proposals from Biden and Sanders

Inside Higher Ed - ven, 04/03/2020 - 00:00

Though they don't necessarily doom the plans, the financial struggles of states amid the coronavirus pandemic have become a major obstacle to free college proposals from presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.

So much so that at least one proponent of free college, Morley Winograd, president of the Campaign for Free College Tuition, acknowledged that the proposals from Sanders and Biden on how to pay for eliminating tuition now are unlikely to happen. The plans “need to be put aside for now,” he said, given the focus on preventing state cuts from sending college tuition soaring.

"Colleges never fully recovered from the last recession, and now they need tens of billions of dollars to avoid massive tuition hikes," said James Kvaal, president of the Institute for College Access & Success and former deputy domestic policy adviser in the Obama White House. "The first priority for both the federal government and states has to be addressing steep budget cuts and preventing large tuition hikes."

Kvaal said that "puts the free college plans in doubt for the foreseeable future." But he said free tuition could still happen sometime in the future.

What’s dampening hopes for many higher education experts is that both candidates’ plans call for states to chip in tens of billions of dollars.

Under Sanders’s proposal, for instance, the federal government would pay three-fourths of the cost, estimated by the campaign to be $48 billion annually. But it would rely on states to spend tens of billions a year to pick up the additional 25 percent.

Biden, meanwhile, initially proposed that states pick up one-fourth of the cost of a smaller plan that would have made community colleges free, with the rest paid by the federal government.

But in a move that was seen as an overture to Sanders supporters and young progressives, Biden announced last month that he would adopt an earlier Sanders proposal, the 2017 Colleges for All bill, making public colleges and universities free for all students whose families earn less than $125,000 a year. The federal government would spend what Sanders then estimated to $600 billion over 10 years, which would cover two-thirds of the total cost. States, in what’s now part of Biden’s plan, would have to pony up the remaining hundreds of billions of dollars.

But states are reeling financially as they deal with health care and other costs during the pandemic, at the same time as the closure of businesses and record unemployment are slashing their revenue. And higher education experts are worried about preventing another devastating round of state cuts in funding for colleges and universities, as happened in the last recession, which sent tuition soaring.

“It’s scary. Colleges will be swamped by a tidal wave of state budget cuts that could be more devastating than the Great Recession,” said Kvaal.

Winograd agreed. “As states focus their attention on responding to the immediate crisis, they are rapidly draining their financial reserves and then some. This combination of events makes it clear that even though the need for free college tuition has never been greater, the likelihood of funding it, even partially, from state revenues is unlikely,” he said.

Instead, Winograd said, Congress should provide money in a new stimulus package for governors who want to eliminate tuition as part of their economic recovery plans.

A spokesman for the National Governors Association said it's too early in the states’ budget process to forecast what will happen to spending for higher education. But he pointed to the dire comments Larry Hogan, Maryland's Republican governor, and Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic governor of Michigan, made in a Washington Post op-ed on Monday.

“As a result of the sharp slowdown in the economy and the postponing of tax filings, states are likely to face huge shortfalls in revenue,” they wrote.

Though Congress included $150 billion in aid to states, territories, municipalities and tribal governments in last week’s $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, the governors wrote, “States will need additional and substantial federal help to continue funding essential services such as police and Medicaid while balancing their budgets and meeting the spending demands of the pandemic.”

“It’s looking very challenging for state budgets,” said Phillip Oliff, the Pew Charitable Trusts’ senior manager of fiscal federalism and student loans policy. “The coronavirus crisis looks like it's going to have a major economic impact. When there are economic downtowns, they often mean major troubles for state budgets,” many of which are barred by law from running deficits, said Oliff, who spoke about the financial situation facing states during the pandemic but declined to comment on its impact on the free college plans.

And when states have to make budget cuts, he said, they tend to look at higher education, because colleges and universities can raise tuition.

Looking to the Feds

Neither the Sanders nor Biden campaigns returned inquiries this week asking if they have a plan for paying for the free college plans given budget crises in the states.

To do free college without state help, experts said, the federal government would have to initially pick up most if not all of the states' share of the cost, until the economy improves enough for states to start chipping in.

“Likely, in reality, it will have to mean a greater investment from the federal government. And that would mean the federal government will have to reprioritize higher education,” said Tiffany Jones, senior director of higher education policy at the Education Trust, which focuses on issues affecting students of color and those from low-income families. She noted that last week’s stimulus package spent 30 times more on helping corporations than higher education.

Some, like Antoinette Flores, director for postsecondary education at the progressive Center for American Progress, thought Congress could go along given the trillions it has been willing to spend in the stimulus packages. She noted that Congress increased spending on Pell Grants during the last recession.

“I could totally see policy makers consider free college. I don’t think the idea is off the table,” she said.

Suzanne Kahn, deputy director of the liberal Roosevelt Institute’s education program and its Great Democracy Initiative, also wasn’t ready to give up hope that the plans could be implemented. “In a moment of incredible crisis, we’re seeing an acceptance of ideas on the table that seemed faraway a short time ago," she said. Kahn cited, for example, how canceling student loan debt, once seen as a radical idea, was considered by Congress as part of the most recent stimulus package negotiations.

“I think it’s hard to make predictions, given how quickly things are moving,” she said.

However, Republican congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have put the brakes on another aid package until they see how the mammoth bill they just passed works out.

And even Democrats on the House education committee stopped short of funding free four-year institutions in the $331 billion College Affordability Act the committee passed last year, because of financial constraints, according to materials from Democrats.

Instead, the bill proposed a smaller plan, giving states $3 for every dollar they spend to make community colleges free.

That proposal doesn't make four-year institutions free. But Democrats on the committee believe the plan is an important step because it would establish a funding mechanism. Congress could add money later and someday make four-year public and private institutions free.

Preventing State Cuts

As attention shifts toward preventing state budget cuts, policy experts see a role for the concept of a federal-state partnership similar to ones proposed by Democratic candidates and House Democrats.

In simpler times before the epidemic, several education policy groups like TICAS and the Bipartisan Policy Center saw the partnerships as a way to encourage states to restore the funding for higher education they cut during the last recession.

A study by the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities last year found that while states have increased spending on higher education in recent years, it still hasn’t gone back to pre-recession levels.

Under different variations of the idea, states that agree to maintain or increase their funding of higher education would be rewarded by getting at least that amount matched by the federal government.

The idea of the federal government increasing higher education spending by tying it to states' spending has “worked its way into the progressive zeitgeist in that everybody is talking about it. Think tanks are talking about it. Advocates are talking about it. The candidates are talking about it,” said Jason Delisle, resident fellow in higher education financing at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

“The ubiquitousness of the idea has really been a sea change in thinking about how we pay for college,” Kvaal said.

What’s become particularly relevant now is that proposals from TICAS and the Bipartisan Policy Center included a backup plan aimed at preventing state cuts during the bad times, such as when states saw an increase in unemployment or a drop in revenue.

Neither Sanders nor Biden’s education platforms, however, are detailed enough to describe what would happen during a recession -- something Kvaal warned about in what now looks like a prescient op-ed in The New York Times last October, titled “The Gaping, Recession-Sized Hole in 2020 College Plans.”

Under TICAS’s proposal, for example, the federal government would encourage states to maintain spending on higher education by doubling the amount of federal dollars for those that do. States that cut federal aid would have their federal funds reduced by half.

Now, TICAS and advocates like Jones said the next stimulus package should include a similar idea to a federal-state partnership to encourage states to not slash funding for colleges, as they did in the last recession.

“The top priority now has to be recovery from the immediate crisis. Colleges will need tens of billions of dollars to prevent rising tuitions and layoffs. In return, states should be required to limit their cuts and reinvest in colleges over time,” Kvaal said.

“It’s an incentive for states to think twice” about cutting higher education spending, because they would lose several times more in federal dollars, said Michele Streeter, a TICAS policy analyst.

Jinann Bitar, a senior higher education policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said policies to prevent state cuts in higher education during recessions are overdue. Her group had proposed Congress create a rainy day fund for states to offset higher education cuts during the hard times.

“Had a policy been in place, it would have mitigated the cuts higher education is facing now,” she said.

A version of the idea was included in the just-passed stimulus package, tying $14 billion in federal funding to states in return for not reducing funds next year below the average of the past three years. However, the provision has been criticized by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and advocacy groups like the Center for American Progress as being too weak because the secretary of education is allowed to grant waivers from the requirement to maintain spending if a state is in economic distress.

A report by the Center for American Progress this week noted that states cut higher education funding during the last recession, even though Congress included a $48.6 billion state stabilization fund in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. States only spent $8.3 billion of that money on higher education, the report said. And of 48 states that received the stabilization funding, 23 ended up cutting higher education funding anyway.

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Among the newly unemployed in the U.S. is a prestigious group: Fulbrighters

Inside Higher Ed - ven, 04/03/2020 - 00:00

When the Department of State announced last month it was suspending Fulbright grants for Americans worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many grantees living abroad had to make difficult decisions quickly with incomplete and imperfect information.

With international borders closing to air traffic, commercial flight routes being canceled and the State Department urging Fulbrighters to return to the U.S. as soon as possible or risk being stuck in their host countries for an extended period, grantees had questions about their stipends and health insurance. Where would they live if they did return to the U.S.? What would they do for work, assuming they could even find jobs as millions of American companies and businesses shed workers during the economic downturn resulting from the public health crisis?

Participants in the State Department-funded Fulbright fellowships, a flagship program that provides grants for teaching and researching opportunities abroad, were not just losing prestigious grants and leaving behind unfinished research projects -- they were also losing incomes, housing and, in some cases, health insurance.

The program is paying grantees their stipends through June. This means grantees whose project terms correspond with the American academic year will receive all or most of the funds they were promised. But some of those whose grants started midyear and were scheduled to continue through the fall said they will not be getting thousands of dollars they were counting on.

Clémence Kopeikin, who was in Brazil on a Fulbright research grant to conduct a community-based program for youth focused on gender-violence prevention, said the premature end to her grant means she will lose more than $5,500 in funding she was counting on.

"My colleagues and I hope the Fulbright program will reverse their decision to cut funding and provide the rest of the grants as was stated in the contracts we signed," she said. "I do not consider it to be ethical to cancel programs and cut Fulbrighters' project funds/sources of income during a pandemic. Most of my research colleagues in other institutions around the world have switched to remote working and are shocked when I tell them that the our program was canceled, we were ordered to travel through mandatory evacuations and that most of us are now looking for work."

Jenny Lundt, a recent Colgate University graduate who arrived in Malaysia in January for what was supposed to be a 10-month Fulbright English teaching assistant grant, said she and other grantees in her position made financial decisions based on commitments made by the program.

"They guaranteed us housing. We got a car," she said of her Fulbright cohort. Now back in the U.S., she says, "I have no savings. I moved back in with my mom, putting my family at risk. I don’t have enough money to rent someplace or self-isolate, and no one is hiring right now."

Still, Lundt said she's better off than other grantees.

“I’m definitely in a more privileged position. I’m still on my parents’ health care, and my parents have made it work for me. Other people in my cohort don’t have that luxury whatsoever.”

The Fulbright program recommends grantees maintain private insurance coverage over and above the accident and sickness policy it provides, but not everyone does. A number of grantees, including Sean Hayward, said they came back to the U.S. during a pandemic without health insurance.

Hayward would have much preferred to stay in Indonesia, where he was studying traditional music from the Banyumas region.

"I have a house [in Indonesia] which is very well-suited to quarantine. I had it completely stocked. I had health insurance, a vehicle, a house full of musical instruments and possessions. It was highly preferable for me to stay," said Hayward, who is a doctoral candidate in music at the California Institute of the Arts. He said he left mainly because he received information from Fulbright officials indicating he would likely lose his research visa if he stayed, though he said he has since learned that would not have been the case.

“My rent in Indonesia for my house is $80 a month, and it’s already paid through the year,” said Hayward, who is currently staying in an Airbnb for a quarantine period after his travels from Indonesia to California took him through four major airports. “Basically, my grant amount is roughly $1,700 a month, which is quite plentiful in Indonesia, but [for] living in Los Angeles it is nowhere close [to] enough to live."

He said apartment hunting in the midst of a pandemic is obviously not ideal. He also has no hope of finding work in his field as a university lecturer any time soon.

The Fulbright program has said the “health, safety, and well-being of program participants” is its “highest priority.” With the pandemic rapidly worsening and borders closing, the department acted quickly and in unprecedented fashion in suspending all programs worldwide. The Department of State on March 19 issued a worldwide travel alert urging all Americans living abroad in places where commercial flights were still available to return to the U.S. immediately or be prepared to stay abroad indefinitely.

A State Department official said in a written statement that the department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs “has repeatedly urged and offered assistance to American Fulbright participants to depart from their overseas locations for several weeks. On February 28, March 11, and March 19 the State Department reiterated calls for Fulbright participants to return home and offered to assist and fully fund the cost of travel.”

“The bureau offered to help arrange their travel, including paying any increased transportation costs, provided stipends through June 30 for all Fulbrighters to aid in their transition, and assured all participants that they would retain alumni status of their programs," the official said.

Ushered Into Alumni Status

The alumni status, which confers grantees a prestigious title for their résumés and access to the Fulbright alumni network, is little comfort to some now-former Fulbrighters.

“We are not being given the opportunity to resume our work after the pandemic is over. We are Fulbright alumni and that’s it,” said Hayward. “For most of us the title of alumni is not as meaningful as the work itself. For me the money is not as meaningful as the work itself. I didn’t choose to become an experimental Indonesian music composer for the cash.”

Maia Evrona, a writer and translator whose grant provided funding her to study the Jewish poetic tradition in Greece and Spain, has called for Fulbright to offer new "makeup" grants to people whose grants were cut short this year.

“This would be unprecedented, but this crisis and the program’s response to it were also unprecedented,” Evrona wrote in an article in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

“The predominant emotion I am hearing from other Fulbrighters is that they just want to finish their projects,” Evrona said via email. “Many people are angry with the Fulbright program for going ahead with next year's grants before they have fulfilled their commitment to current Fulbrighters.”

She also said people also are angry because they felt that traveling put them in more danger than sheltering in place would have.

Natalia Roman, who has asthma, initially wanted to stay in Colombia, where she was a Fulbright English teaching assistant, but instead returned to Puerto Rico via a 27-hour flight that took her through four airports. On her journey back, she wore a sign on her back saying “Chronic Asthma Patient -- Please Keep Your Distance.”

Roman does not have health insurance in Puerto Rico, and she was fearful for her health traveling during a pandemic. Still, she said, “looking back, I think it was the right decision to get us out while we could because a lot of people are stuck in different countries. Things in Colombia aren’t looking great, and there is a certain level of security that each of us feels being with our parents and being with our significant other and knowing that even if borders close, it's not as if we’re stuck anywhere other than where we’re supposed to be,” she said.

Some Fulbrighters have chosen to stay on in their host countries as private citizens. Matthew Ehrlich, a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of California, San Diego, and his wife, Kelsey Wood, opted to stay in Spain on tourist rather than research visas after Ehrlich's Fulbright grant prematurely ended.

Ehrlich was using his Fulbright to do dissertation research on the 19th-century Spanish empire and said he’s relieved to be getting funding through June and to have Fulbright alumni status. But he said lack of clarity about those details complicated his decision making when he and his wife were trying to decide what to do.

“We felt this sword of Damocles hanging over our heads,” he said. “We couldn’t think with a clear head about what was genuinely best for our health, our safety, our families, the right thing to do globally, because of this fear that we would lose our funding and lose our status.”

Requirement to Return Stipend

The Fulbright program is not the only U.S. government-sponsored grant for international research and study. Frankee Lyons, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, went to Poland with funding from the State Department’s Title VIII program, which funds research and language instruction in Eastern Europe, Eurasia and Russia, in addition to funding from the Fulbright program.

Lyons, who studies Polish-Jewish life in the 1950s under Communism, is pleased with how Fulbright officials in Poland handled the pandemic. But Lyons is very unhappy that the American Councils for International Education -- a nonprofit organization that administers her Title VIII grant -- is requiring her to repay about $6,000 for her housing and living stipend for the remaining three months of her now-canceled grant.

Graham Hettlinger, an American Councils official, wrote to Lyons and informed her she could keep the housing portion of the stipend to pay for outstanding lease payments if she returned to the U.S., but not if she stayed in Poland -- "as doing so would effectively be to continue a program that, by our own assessment, we were obligated to cancel in order to protect the health of our participants."

Hettlinger, the managing director of higher education programs for American Councils, defended the requirement to return the money in a March 25 letter to Lyons, saying the terms of the grant “include the requirement that a pro-rated portion of housing and living stipends be returned to the funder if a scholar’s time abroad is reduced for any reason from the original time allotted.”

“After that I went back to the terms and conditions,” said Lyons. “It doesn’t say ‘for any reason.’ There are clear sections in the contract that say under what conditions it must be returned, and those are if the grantee withdraws, is dismissed or is medically evacuated, and none of those things happened. The program was canceled by them. I wasn’t dismissed; I didn’t withdraw.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do going forward with this,” said Lyons, who remains in Poland. “I’m also really concerned one this is my livelihood for the next three months. I didn’t violate my contract, and I feel I’ve been mistreated.”

Hettlinger, of American Councils, said via email that the terms and conditions of the grant say that fellowships can be canceled or shortened and fellows asked to return early due to circumstances beyond their control.

"Throughout these events, American Council’s first priority has been to protect the health and safety of our program participants by keeping them well informed of ongoing developments in the COVID-19 crisis, and, as required by conditions, arranging their safe and timely return home," he said. "We certainly feel for those of our Title VIII scholars who have had to abbreviate their research time abroad due to these events, and we recognize that the shortening of their awards has had unfortunate financial implications for many."

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