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Presidents' biggest COVID-19 worries? Low-income students and colleges' financial strain

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 00:00

New survey of college leaders' perspectives on the impact of the coronavirus reveals deep concern about impact on neediest students, uncertainty about the future and signs that some recent changes may stick.

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Tuition freezes and cuts show colleges and universities are face downward price pressure amid coronavirus crisis

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 00:00

The coronavirus outbreak placed sudden downward pressure on the price of attending college this spring, as students being sent home from on-campus programs demanded room and board refunds and in some cases filed lawsuits seeking partial tuition rebates.

At first glance, it may look like a short-term disruption that will resolve itself once the public health threat is over and students can go back to campus. Some of the immediate pricing pressure stems from questions about whether students are willing to pay as much for temporary online substitutes as they will for an in-person education.

But as the crisis stretches on and prospects for in-person education this fall remain shrouded in uncertainty, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the pandemic is exacerbating a larger squeeze on college prices.

Even before the coronavirus hit, many colleges and universities were finding it difficult to collect enough money from students to meet rising costs. The traditional bread and butter for four-year campuses, wealthy white high school graduates, were expected to decline in number in parts of the country in coming years. And many families struggled to pay full price for big-ticket items like higher education after the uneven recovery from the Great Recession failed to lift all incomes equally.

Now, families face a second massive economic disruption in a dozen years, even as colleges don’t know when they’ll be able to say for sure whether they will be continuing remote education in the fall or bringing students back on campus. Speculation runs rampant that student behavior will change, with some sitting out the year and others enrolling in low-cost options or colleges close to home.

The disruption comes shortly after a federal investigation prompted changes to admissions counselors’ code of ethics -- changes that on their own were expected to significantly increase recruiting competition. That leaves many colleges scrambling to provide financial aid packages large enough to keep existing students enrolled or to convince new students to enroll for the first time in the fall, whether or not campuses open.

“We’re just being inundated with conversations coming at us in waves,” said Bill Hall, founder and president of Applied Policy Research Inc., a consulting firm based in Minnesota. “‘What do we do about the rest of the spring term? How do we prepare ourselves for any wave of money which we’re adding into packaging? Then what are the criteria we use for taking an appeal?’ And then, finally, we’re at the point where people are asking, ‘What if this goes into the fall?’”

Last week, the pricing pressures burst into full view as several colleges and universities across the country announced actions ranging from tuition freezes to steep cuts to options allowing students to defer tuition payments until well after the fall semester.

The College of William & Mary announced it would roll back a planned 3 percent increase for new in-state undergraduates arriving in fall 2020. Instead, the prestigious college in Virginia expects to hold tuition and mandatory fees unchanged for all students next year. Halfway across the country, Kansas City University took a similar step, announcing a tuition freeze and killing its own planned 3 percent tuition increase.

Christopher Newport University in Virginia announced it will not increase tuition, fees and room and board for 2020-21. Delaware Valley University in Pennsylvania froze undergraduate tuition and fees.

The University System of Maine launched a program targeted at students affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Under the program, called the Maine Welcome, the system promised resident tuition status to “any successful U.S. college student or law student displaced by a COVID-19-related permanent closure of a U.S. institution of higher education.” In Ohio, Franciscan University of Steubenville rolled out a plan covering 100 percent of fall 2020 tuition for new on-campus undergraduates, after scholarships and grants.

Davidson College in North Carolina unveiled an option allowing students and families to defer payment for the fall semester for up to a year. The prominent college in North Carolina will issue bills for the fall semester in July, but all students except for seniors will be able to defer payment until August 2021. Seniors who are graduating next spring will be able to defer until April 1.

Perhaps more significant than any other move was one announced by Southern New Hampshire University, a private nonprofit with massive online enrollment and scale.

It announced plans to cut tuition for campus-based learning models by 61 percent by 2021, down to $10,000 per year. Southern New Hampshire is also offering scholarships for all incoming freshmen enrolling on campus that will cover the full cost of their first-year tuition.

Those incoming freshmen are expected to live on campus but take courses online, allowing them to participate in the experiential side of the institution. Then they can continue with the $10,000 on-campus rate in their sophomore years, when new models based on online, hybrid or project-based modalities are expected to be ready.

‘We’re Looking at Everything’

Southern New Hampshire University looks like few others because of its size, scale and online capabilities. In normal times, the private nonprofit reported 3,000 on-campus students and 135,000 students studying online.

That massive enrollment helps make possible pricing experiments that might be difficult for smaller colleges and universities. Still, Southern New Hampshire’s tuition changes are connected to the larger environment.

The university is acknowledging that freshmen are enrolling in an uncertain time by providing full-tuition scholarships for those enrolling in on-campus programs this fall.

“We really de-risk for those first-year students,” said Paul LeBlanc, Southern New Hampshire’s president. “We think this turns out to be exactly the right strategy at exactly the right time.”

Southern New Hampshire had been working toward rolling out the new model in 2023, LeBlanc said. Then the pandemic hit. Current high school seniors don’t have the luxury of waiting a few years, so the university accelerated its plans.

“It’s not our timing of choice, but it’s what we need to do,” LeBlanc said. “This is not a response to the challenges of September 2020. It’s actually much more a response to the recession and this astonishing level of unemployment.”

LeBlanc cautions against seeing Southern New Hampshire’s announcement solely as a single-year pricing move. It’s paired with significant efforts to improve pedagogy and rethink assumptions about the way on-campus education works. Even though it’s being put in place on an accelerated schedule, the university has been laying the groundwork for quite some time.

“We’re looking at everything,” LeBlanc said. “We’re looking at the whole student life cycle. How do we leverage the kind of technology and platforms that we’ve built? How do we think differently about the structure and term of the academic year? Could we move to a 12-month academic year? Could we contemplate the student going around the calendar and graduating in two years, which removes two years of opportunity costs?”

That parallels something experts often say about pricing conversations: a college’s price is best considered in concert with market position, long-term strategy and developments in the broader higher education environment.

“There is downward pressure in pricing, but what we’re seeing is that what each institution should do is idiosyncratically different from what every other institution should do,” said David Strauss, a principal at Art & Science Group, a Baltimore-based consulting firm. “If you can’t afford to study and get the right answer, it’s usually the wrong answer over the long term.”

‘You Have to Be a Very Good Listener to the Market’

Signs of pricing pressure existed long before the coronavirus crisis exposed them.

The National Association of College and University Business Officers conducts an annual Tuition Discounting Study that looks at the sticker prices four-year private nonprofit colleges and universities post, the amount of financial aid they provide and the tuition discount rates that reveal what percentage of sticker prices institutions never actually collect from students. That study has also examined net tuition revenue -- the amount of money institutions do collect from students.

Net tuition revenue was largely flat in recent years, according to the 2018 discounting study, the most recent available. Across all types of private institutions in the study, net revenue per first-time, full-time freshman rose by just 0.4 percent without adjusting for inflation in 2018-19. It fell by 0.8 percent in 2017-18.

“I think there’s been downward pressure on price now for some years,” LeBlanc said. “It’s been a little bit masked for many privates because of the way it’s manifested in the discount rate. They have been effectively lowering their price without saying it publicly across many institutions.”

Even so, the current crisis is accelerating that pressure. Research is showing that students and families are thinking about staying closer to home than they normally would, according to Stephanie Dupaul, vice president for enrollment management at the University of Richmond.

“This is already the safety-focused generation; this will just increase that focus,” she said in an email. “And cost has become a significant factor as these high school students are now watching their parents go through a second economic crisis.”

Even well-off students seem likely to try to minimize risks in this environment, said Allen Koh, CEO of Cardinal Education, an education consulting firm that caters to wealthy families seeking admission to elite institutions.

“You’re going to start seeing an unprecedented number of kids who are going to college in the fall who will do summer school at a community college to try to get some general education requirements cheaply,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot more students take three years to graduate, and you may even see this impact medical schools and law schools.”

Different admissions officers and experts have theorized that well-off families could hedge their bets by putting down deposits at multiple colleges. Doing so would allow them to select the best option of price, prestige and location once the extent of pandemic-related shutdowns becomes clear for the fall, all while dodging traditional spring commitment deadlines.

It would also throw enrollment, yield and summer melt models into disarray over the summer, leaving some colleges without their most lucrative students on short notice.

Some experts also believe gap years could become more popular if students don’t want to take the risk of enrolling at all in an uncertain environment. Other students may scrap all plans to attend college, particularly if mounting financial troubles make higher education seem unattainable for first-generation students or those with little savings. Data show declining completion rates for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, indicating that at least some students may be rethinking college attendance next year.

At the same time, students who would have been likely to attend prestigious second-tier institutions are now focused on entering the Ivy League, Koh said. Families that continue to have a large amount of wealth -- those that pay the full cost of tuition -- are always sought after. But they’re even more valuable to colleges today, when less wealthy students have larger financial needs and rising coronavirus-related costs are stretching budgets across the board.

In other words, wealthy families suddenly enjoy even more leverage than they had before. The most prestigious institutions in the country are most able to choose their students, so they are most able to shield themselves from pricing pressures.

“Very prestigious schools and schools with strong endowments, they won’t do anything on pricing for at least this admissions cycle, maybe two,” Koh said. “It’s hard to raise prices after a massive deduction. Plus, universities just have too many fixed costs.”

Still, universities of all types could feel at least a net revenue pinch because of uncertainty in international student enrollment. As wealth levels and the number of traditional high school graduates have leveled off in the United States, many colleges and universities leaned heavily on international enrollment, which produces a large number of students paying high prices.

Now, Koh asks if international students will be able to fly to the United States to attend college in the fall. Will the federal government grant them visas? Will they want to come?

All those pressures translate to difficulty for institutions that would normally be considered safe from enrollment and pricing shocks. That makes moves such as Davidson’s tuition deferral worth watching closely.

The deferral option at Davidson applies to tuition and fees as well as room and board for the fall. All or part of family contributions can be postponed. Davidson left open the possibility of expanding the deferred tuition option to the spring 2021 semester.

A Davidson spokesman declined to provide any estimates of financial costs associated with the deferral option being offered to students because of uncertainty. In emailed responses to questions, he emphasized the college’s community.

“The option to defer fall tuition springs from the sense of community that makes Davidson distinctive,” the spokesman wrote. “We share in each other’s celebrations and support each other in our struggles. This is an expression of who we are. The option to defer payments is an act to help our students and their families, to make it easier for students to return to -- or start -- their educational experience at Davidson.”

Depending on how it’s structured, such a deferral program could carry risks for students, families and colleges. It could mean families facing not one but two tuition bills next year, experts pointed out. If families can’t pay, any college offering a deferral plan will be left with a financial hit.

Even so, it’s one way to shift billing and address short-term market shocks.

Other colleges and universities that rely on the on-campus experience to attract students may not have the financial resources to spot families the cost of tuition for a significant period of time. Tuition-dependent small private liberal arts colleges that tout small class sizes and intimate campuses are scattered across the country. What happens if they’re unable to leverage that close community to attract new students in the fall?

What happens if the pandemic prevents students from returning to campus in the fall, prompting rising sophomores or juniors not to re-enroll? What if those students reason that paying a liberal arts tuition for an online experience makes no sense when they can just as easily pay a lower price point at a fully online college?

Melody Rose was the president of Marylhurst University outside of Portland, Ore., when it closed in 2018. She is now working on a book tentatively titled Achieving Graceful Transitions in Higher Education and is a senior consultant for the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

“I think if you’re a small private or public regional institution without a lot of investment capacity in an online pivot, and the very reason people select you -- the community, the intimacy of small in-person classes -- is gone, then you may be facing an existential crisis by fall of 2020,” Rose said.

Should the coronavirus force campuses to remain closed in the fall, long-term questions about pricing pressure may fade into the background in lieu of the newly burning question of for what, exactly, students at traditional campuses were really paying. Was it credit hours or the full in-person experience, rich with living among fellow students, taking part in activities and receiving a full slate of support services?

As much as some administrators may want to argue that students will be willing to pay full cost for a short-term remote learning substitute, the spate of class action lawsuits filed after students were sent home this spring suggests other scenarios.

For now, however, that question remains part of a larger environment of uncertainty that continues as spring admissions season enters its critical phase. Hundreds of universities have postponed decision day, when deposits are due, from May 1 to June 1. Coming days and weeks will still be crunch time, when many high school seniors will decide where to attend college after summer’s end.

“It’s difficult to feel very confident about how some of these key value points might play out, and that’s especially true in that competition for students,” said Peter Stokes, managing director at the consulting firm Huron’s education strategy and operations group. “You have to be a very good listener to the market in order to compete effectively in a highly dynamic situation.”

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Colleges rev up cuts as pandemic-related costs keep mounting

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 00:00

In February, shortly after the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the United States, Barbara Mistick didn’t think the pandemic would have such a staggering impact on colleges.

“I was still traveling,” said Mistick, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. “The conversation started in February with study abroad. I don’t think any of us saw the study abroad conversation leading to this total shutdown and impact on every single revenue source.”

Unforeseen expenses cropped up almost immediately. In early March, many colleges paid to bring students back from study abroad programs and lost money on prepaid tickets and hotel stays.

Since, the costs have only continued piling up. Canceled events, student move-outs, room and board refunds, scaled-up cleaning procedures, and online teaching have all brought unanticipated expenses.

Experts have for weeks been calling the pandemic an unprecedented financial challenge for colleges. To mitigate the financial burden, a growing number of colleges has announced employee pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs. They continued at a rapid pace last week.

Recently Announced Cuts at Colleges

  • Penn State University counts losses exceeding $100 million since March and expects another $160 million revenue loss next fiscal year, prompting actions including salary adjustments and 3 percent across-the-board cuts.
  • The University of Akron plans to cut academic and athletic programs and freeze hiring, plus implement some salary reductions and 20 percent cuts to athletic and nonacademic administrative expenses.
  • Lafayette College has implemented a hiring freeze and executive pay cuts, suspended employee salary increases and deferred nonessential capital projects to mitigate a loss of at least $7.6 million.
  • The University of Louisville will implement a 1 percent pay cut for faculty and some staff and furlough some workers, in addition to previous cuts for top administrators and faculty.
  • Boise State University will implement a tiered furlough structure, tying the number of furloughed days to salary amounts. The university has so far suffered a $10 million loss.
  • Trinity Washington University is not filling open positions and has temporarily eliminated some campus services, such as shuttle service to the Metro.
  • The University of Kentucky will implement layoffs, furloughs and hiring freezes in the face of a $70 million budget shortfall.
  • Northwestern University froze faculty and staff pay, in addition to a hiring freeze.
  • At Miami University in Ohio, many contingent faculty contracts will not be renewed for the upcoming academic year.
  • Syracuse University has lost $35 million and is planning pay cuts and hiring freezes.
  • Johns Hopkins University is expecting to make furloughs and layoffs. It faces a $100 million loss for fiscal 2020 and $375 million for fiscal 2021.
  • Washington University in St. Louis will furlough 1,300 employees for 90 days, many of whom are on the medical campus. The university so far faces a $60 million loss.
  • Anticipating a $200 million budget shortfall, Rutgers University has implemented a hiring freeze, banned university-sponsored travel and halted noncontractual pay increases, among other steps.

In a detailed austerity memo, Johns Hopkins University president Ronald Daniels warned of expected furloughs and layoffs to be made at the departmental level. The university is projecting a net loss of $100 million for fiscal 2020 and up to $375 million for fiscal 2021. “More than 1,200 employees have been rendered idle because they are unable to perform their duties,” Daniels wrote. “Many more are working off-site but at significantly reduced levels of productivity.”

The University of Louisville will implement a 1 percent pay cut for faculty and some employees making between $58,000 and $99,000, on top of a previous cut for faculty and administrators making $100,000 or more. The university has also halted contributions to employee retirement accounts.

Boise State University has implemented a tiered furlough structure for staff, tying the number of furloughed days to salary amounts. The university has so far suffered a $10 million loss.

The University of Kentucky will implement layoffs, furloughs and hiring freezes in the face of a $70 million budget shortfall. Northwestern University froze faculty and staff pay, in addition to a hiring freeze. At Miami University in Ohio, many contingent faculty contracts will not be renewed for the upcoming academic year. Syracuse University has lost $35 million and is planning pay cuts and hiring freezes.

The list goes on.

Personnel cuts are arguably the most dire cost-cutting measures colleges take, but Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, an association for private institutions, has seen plenty of different, less newsworthy budget trimming. He noted that many colleges have halted retirement contributions, reduced employee benefits contributions and cut into faculty travel and sabbatical budgets.

Ekman also mentioned that some colleges are taking the opportunity to re-examine their use of space on campus and planning out more socially distant course schedules that could be implemented in the fall.

“You know the saying, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste,’ if it enables you to take a look at other issues,” he said, noting that reconsidering academic schedules "should have been done all along."

Mistick of NAICU added that many construction projects are on hold, in part due to current state restrictions on construction.

Fall enrollments will be a key factor in budget projections for the next fiscal year. Ekman believes that current predictions, many of them negative, are not based on hard evidence.

“I’ve seen enrollment projections … that range from a loss of 5 percent to a loss of 40 percent,” he said. “The problem is it’s too early to tell. There’s not enough good information to base a prediction from any given college.”

Mistick worries about attrition among current students. She suspects some students will drop out as a result of the sudden disruption, and others will consider taking a break while courses remain online.

In Pennsylvania, a potential 5 percent decline in fall enrollment will result in a $300 million loss across the state’s 92 independent colleges, she said. A 15 percent decline could lead to a nearly $1 billion loss.

The pandemic and resulting economic downtown is a two-front war. While costs increase, revenue streams dwindle.

“Tuition does not cover the full cost of attendance at institutions,” Mistick said. “Auxiliary, room and board, everything from parking for events that are held on your campus make a tremendous contribution to our institutions. Cultural events, sporting events, facility rentals, all of those things.”

It’s too soon to tell when regular revenue streams will return, according to Ekman.

“I think it will vary regionally as the hot spots of the virus move around the country,” he said.

It's tempting to compare the current situation to other recent events that caused significant financial turmoil. Mistick believes this is a much more significant disruption.

“I don’t think we’ve ever experienced a moment like this before in higher ed,” Mistick said. “Folks say, ‘Hey, could you compare this to 2008 or Sept. 11?’ There is just no comparison.”

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April 27 roundup: Special Q&A, canceled internships and a cursed video

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 00:00

Another week, almost another month.

It's weird to think that parts of the country may be opening up soon. And concerning to think about what might happen as a consequence of those choices.

Let's not dwell on those thoughts now. Instead, here are some palate cleansers (or, perhaps, we could call them "reality chasers") with which to clear your mind.

I have seen this cursed video of a talking cat from American University, and now you all must, too.

@AmericanU⁩ most beloved Wonk Cat has a special message to share. Touch her picture to listen pic.twitter.com/Jr5jCCHUh4

— AUArboretum (@AUArboretum) April 22, 2020

This is not a cursed video. It's simply a way for me to vicariously live through fit people as I continue to avoid running. It's also just generally cool.

Black girls doing “Double Dutch” has always been a staple throughout the inner cities for decades. One of the Greatest mixes of Skill, Agility, Rhythm & Intellect

Delores x De’Shone x Adrienne x Nikki x Robin aka “THE FANTASTIC FOUR”

Lincoln Center in NYC (1980s)#REPRESENT pic.twitter.com/UCnrEPvAxy

— REPRESENT (@Represent_NYC_) April 23, 2020

Need a chuckle? Mashable rounded up some of the best tweets of the past week. (Featuring Big Poppa, and absent the giant baby drama.)

Let’s get to the news.

Antitrust lawyers are concerned that colleges may be colluding to not lower tuition prices for online semesters, which would violate antitrust laws. They allege prominent universities already have met to discuss canceling open houses for international students.

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities criticized Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's decision to exclude students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program from federal emergency grant funds.

Another college said it intends to open in the fall. This time, it's the University of Mary Washington, a public university in Virginia.

Rutgers University in New Jersey announced it's facing a revenue shortfall of $200 million -- and plans to freeze hiring, slash salaries and pause construction projects.

A survey found that 35 percent of summer internships have been canceled. The economic prospects for Gen Z are not looking good.

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

Colleges scrambled together some semblance of a spring term just in time. There are plans for a mostly remote summer. But what about fall? Lilah Burke delves into what's on everyone's minds.

Athletics departments are cutting programs, and college athletes are losing what they worked hard for, Greta Anderson reports.

Marjorie Valbrun has the story on how stimulus funding is helping black colleges weather this storm.

News From Elsewhere

EdSurge looked at how residential colleges can sell an online experience.

Education Dive has a story on how college counseling offices are contracting with remote counseling companies to help students.

Could antibody testing help colleges reopen safely in the fall? The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the complications that could come with that.

Percolating Thoughts

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

A college president and student body president urge people to connect across generations and use that collaboration to get through the pandemic.

The president of the Institute for College Access & Success wrote in Forbes about what he thinks Congress should do to help colleges.

I spoke last week with Carrie Billy, president of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, about how tribal colleges and their students are dealing with the pandemic. The conversation covered a lot of important ground and got a bit emotional because of what's at stake. I know it's a Monday morning, but I highly recommend you keep reading.

Q: Some reports say the number of COVID-19 cases in tribal nations is rising quickly. Are people in the tribal-college communities fearful?

A: I think it’s regional, kind of like it is around the country. Originally, people at the tribal colleges probably thought it would not be as bad in rural America, and because the ability of people to social distance is a little easier. They were worried and definitely were following the governors' and the tribal leaders’ recommendations and then mandates, but now we’re seeing how quickly it can spread in rural America and Indian country. And then there are the challenges that everyone’s read about -- the lack of water in a number of homes, lack of electricity, very few hospitals, mostly just the Indian Health Service facilities.

People are becoming more worried, but I think the tribal colleges and Native people in general, we just had a lot of hardship and lived through a lot of hardship. I think people have that kind of feeling -- this is another challenge that we will come through together.

Q: Have all tribal colleges gone online due to coronavirus?

A: They’ve all gone online or to some form of distance education, because again, tribal colleges are rural, so some didn’t feel like moving predominantly online would work for them. So they’re doing the old-fashioned distance education. Whether that’s online, by telephone or teleconferences, or sending out packets and then students are taking their packets, having phone calls with their faculty, and then they deliver packets back to the library book drop at the college.

We always saw American Indians as resilient, but everyone is resilient in times like this. So whatever works, they’re doing.

Q: What are the biggest challenges institutions are facing with that switch?

A: One of our biggest challenge right now is with career education. Tribal colleges are primarily two-year institutions, although a number offer four-year degrees. But really they’re place-based institutions that are focused on their communities, so they do a lot of workforce development, career and technical education. Figuring out how to offer those courses so students don’t get too far behind is one of our biggest challenges.

Another challenge is moving to an entirely new way of teaching and learning with very little preparation. That’s a challenge that fortunately, or unfortunately (but at least we’re in this together), all institutions of higher education are facing. But for tribal colleges, it’s worse because we’re trying to do it in a part of the country that has very little access to the internet. The tax credits for internet service providers to provide hotspots for students to take home and access the internet -- those don’t work for most of our students in our communities because there are no towers for those hotspots to access.

What we’re finding with our colleges is that they’re going to have put in the community internet access. So not only are they shifting to online learning or different forms of education, but they’re also having to put in community-based hotspots. The idea is that students would then have an access point that’s closer to their homes than the college, because some of them are driving 100 miles, 50 miles one-way to go to school. So, an access point closer to homes, and then they sit in their cars and do their homework or participate in the course.

Q: So, are tribal colleges essentially building their own infrastructure?

A: They are building their own infrastructure of internet. A lot of it can be done fairly reasonably priced if you’re working with the right people. It’s still expensive, but not nearly as expensive as laying fiber, which would be extremely time-consuming. Right now, students are coming to the colleges and sitting in the parking lots of the college in their cars.

Q: What are the biggest challenges students are facing?

A: One of the positive things is that all the presidents and faculty I’ve talked to over the past few weeks have said that students are adjusting remarkably well. We thought it was going to be horrible and that they were going to have a really difficult time. But most students, if they can get internet access, are adjusting.

There are lower dropouts. There are still some students who the colleges haven’t been able to find. But because tribal colleges are place-based, really focused on their students and student success, and looking at the students holistically, the faculty are calling students, really engaging with them to get them to come to class online. That’s one of the most positive things about this whole experience, that our students are really showing up and committed to education.

The biggest challenges that they’re facing are just financial challenges. Even before this, financial challenges were the No. 1 issue affecting tribal college students and the stopping out of our students. Now, you have whole families in very small houses trying to survive without incomes or very low income. That’s why things like the Department of Education’s emergency student aid, the American Indian College Fund emergency aid program, those kinds of things so we can just help our students live their lives so they have the space to continue their education, are really critical. About 80 percent of our students are Pell-eligible, prior to this, so that kind of gives you the idea of the needs.

A couple other issues -- it’s all related to lack of equipment. They don't have laptops at home, and our colleges don’t have enough laptops right now for most students to check out a laptop. That’s another reason some of them are sitting in the parking lot, because they actually come to the school, check out a laptop, take it to their car, access the internet, do their work. Some colleges have bought phones so they’re able to access internet from a hotspot that the colleges are putting up. But just trying to get the equipment to the students is the other big challenge. Once they have that, we think that they’re doing pretty well.

Q: Are most students losing their jobs?

A: If they work at the tribal college, they are being protected. Others, we have a number of casinos, and all of those are shut down. Stores are closing. So that’s a big challenge for our students. Not just the students, but their families that they’re living with.

The majority of our students, like all community college students, are part-time students. The only downside for us about the Department of Education’s emergency student aid formula is that it’s heavily weighted toward residential, large institutions. The more part-time students an institution has, the lower their funding level because of the estimates that the Department of Ed is making.

It maybe should be opposite, because, if they’re already working, they clearly need the income to survive and to go to school. If you take away their ability to work and then their ability to access emergency aid is less than a student who was at a larger institution going full-time, it makes it difficult. We’re dealing with it. There has to be some formula, and unfortunately it’s that.

Q: How are colleges dealing with that? We’ve seen some institutions close or talk about mergers. Are any tribal colleges thinking about those things?

A: It doesn’t look that bad yet. But it could be that it’s because we have been so focused on just getting through to the end of the semester. Our schools are just, over the past week or so, beginning to look more long-term. There are a couple factors that maybe are a little unique to tribal colleges that make the situation dire.

If they close, it’s not going to be for the same reasons that the small liberal arts schools close -- students dropping out, or not coming back and living on campus. Our tribal colleges are dependent on the federal government for their institutional operation funds because of treaty obligations and trust responsibility. Hopefully that will continue.

But because that support from the federal government is so low and our tuition is very low, they also get some supplemental support from the tribes. Not all the tribal colleges, but a lot do. Last year, tribal colleges got about $33 million in operating funding from their tribes.

Some tribes have already told the colleges you’re getting cut, we’re not going to be able to provide that, so expect a 20 to 50 percent cut, a 100 percent cut. One tribe gives a payment to the college in two installments throughout the year, and they’ve already told them, “We’re not going to be able to make the second payment.” So that’s an immediate loss of funds. When you’re looking at small institutions and small budgets, that’s a lot of money to be taken out, so that’s a real worry for us.

Declining enrollment means lower tuition, even though we have pretty low tuition. The average tuition is less than $4,000 per year for a four-year degree. But it’s still a loss of income, and it starts adding up. Every year the colleges write off about $4 million in tuition payments. We expect that’s going to be higher next year.

When you start looking long-term, it does get bleaker.

Q: What do you think the long-term effects of this pandemic will be on those the tribal colleges serve?

A: Tribal colleges were created to do two things. One, to preserve their tribe’s culture, language, history and traditions. The loss of that is just inconceivable.

You might have heard some of the Navajo people talking about elders, who are most at risk. Northern Cheyenne Chief Dull Knife College has fewer than eight native speakers, except for the people who are being trained at the tribal college. If we lose them and then we lose the college, we’ve lost tribes and tribal identity. That is something that we cannot allow to happen.

The other reason is workforce development, to help lift our communities out of generational poverty, to be strong sovereign tribal nations, to determine their own destiny. To not have the workforce development, the career opportunities, the training of tribal foresters, water hydrologists, nurses, Native teachers -- that just sets us back generations. So we will not let that happen.

Q: What do you plan to fight for to prevent that from happening?

A: We’re continuing to work with Congress to try to allocate funding for tribal colleges in emergency legislation, the CARES Act and in future bills.

We work with our tribes and also work with our other partners. We have a coalition with our minority-serving institutions who are all coming together to advocate collectively for our needs, which has been tremendously helpful. We’re also creating coalitions with other Native organizations and programs.

Tribal colleges train in their communities the vast majority of nurses and other workers at Indian Health Service facilities. We’re working with them to try to get the message out for the need to holistically provide support. We’re not just asking for funds -- it really is an investment in the future of Native America.

I noticed one thing that the Department of Education said. They had a listening session on the funding from the education stabilization fund on Friday. One half of 1 percent goes from Department of Education to the Bureau of Indian Education. Someone from the Department of Education put at the bottom of the session's announcement something like, "Should all the money go to K-12, or should it go to tribal colleges as well? Because tribal colleges, it should be noted, got $20 million in the CARES Act."

Twenty million dollars for 35 institutions is barely a drop in the bucket. So for someone at the Department of Education to say something like that is just unbelievable. They're trying to create tension and dissension among Indian tribes and Indian programs when we all should be working together.

Q: What would help tribal colleges get through this?

A: We think that what was in the CARES Act is tremendously helpful, and we are so grateful for that. The emergency student aid -- our colleges are so excited to be getting that money, to get it out to the students, so that’s critically important. The foundation that was laid in the CARES Act is really great.

What we need in the future is what everyone needs. We just need the support, the investment to continue until we get over this challenge. Then tribal colleges will continue to survive and flourish and serve their tribes and their nations just like they always have done. We think it’s just a short-term need, but it’s not something that can stop. I don’t think the programs need to change, it’s just that the resources need to be committed.

Q: How did we get to this point, where tribal colleges and nations are struggling with the switch to remote learning so much?

A: It’s kind of that equity question where, if you just continue things the status quo, giving equal amounts of funding or using a percentage funding to fund different programs, we’re never going to catch up. That’s the situation we’re in now, particularly with our federal programs.

Our Title III programs, or even our operating funding, Congress will increase by a certain percentage every year or not increase for several years. But because we have been historically underfunded, we’re never going to dig out of the hole we’re in. People need to shift the way they’re looking at funding programs and look at equity and the real needs of institutions and the students we’re serving. If they don’t do that, it’s not going to change, we’re going to continue to struggle. We’ll do the best we can, but we’ll continue to struggle.

This is really sad. We’re all working from home, but we had these boxes of old [American Indian Higher Education Consortium] archives, so I brought some of them home to go through. I found testimony from 1978, which doesn’t seem like that long ago, but that was the year that Congress authorized the Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities Assistance Act. That authorizes the operating for funding for most of the tribal colleges because of treaty obligations and trust responsibility.

I read that testimony. Basically, I could just erase the date and the number of colleges, and the requests, the needs are the same. It’s really, really sad to think 45 years later, our needs have not changed.

The infrastructure isn’t there. The colleges are in better facilities, but the communities are facing the same challenges, our colleges are facing the same challenges.

It’s the same with the digital divide. We worked on a big initiative in the early 2000s to get tribal colleges at least one T1 line, because most of them at that time had dial-up internet access. Now, you look at the Verizon map or the AT&T map of this country, you can tell where Indian country is, because it’s all the places that there are big voids on those cellular phone maps.

It just doesn’t change because we’re a small percentage of the population. We don’t have a lot of representation, particularly in the House. It’s hard to get people to prioritize funding for our institutions and our people.

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

A: We will get through this.

We have weekly calls with our presidents, and we try to do weekly webinars with the colleges. We start every one of them with a prayer and end them with a prayer, and it’s just really great to feel that sense of community even though we can’t be together.

That’s what keeps us going, I think that’s what keeps all of us going. We all have better days ahead, and we will get through this together.

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

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

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Colleges lay groundwork for fall, with or without pandemic

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 00:00

The talk around what college is going to look like in the fall is still, for now, just talk. The difficult calls have not been made, those hard-to-send emails have not been sent. The question of whether campuses will be closed to students is still in many ways an open one.

But every day the picture gets clearer. Some universities, if they have not made firm decisions, have indicated where they're leaning.

Two universities in the California State University system, San José State and Cal State Fullerton, have been open about considering and planning for a fall semester online. Though officials at those colleges have emphasized that nothing is set in stone, they are getting everything in order for a possible virtual semester.

The opposite is true at some other universities, which have said that they are preparing for a semester on campus. Purdue University president Mitch Daniels sent a letter to the university's constituents this week explaining that the administration is looking at separating people by age and vulnerability and limiting class sizes in the fall.

He did not mention the possibility of a fully online semester and said that the virus poses a near "zero lethal threat" to the under-35 age group, which makes up 80 percent of the student body.

William Jewell College in Missouri similarly announced that the administration is planning for an on-campus semester.

One reason for the differences in messaging might be location. Fullerton and San José are in some of the most populous metropolitan areas in the country. West Lafayette, Ind., and Liberty, Mo., are much less dense.

Chuck Staben, former president of the University of Idaho, said that institutions like Purdue and his own may be more likely to emphasize a face-to-face start.

"A residential campus like the University of Idaho that's in a fairly isolated location depends so much on really bringing students to that location," he said. "They're going to try very hard to have a face-to-face semester."

Staben noted that public and private colleges may also have different pressures.

"Private institutions, of course, aside from maybe the very top ones, are extremely tuition dependent. I think they will be under a lot of pressure to have face-to-face classes rather than online classes, because I think we're seeing student dissatisfaction with paying normal tuition for online classes," he said. "The higher the tuition, probably the greater that level of dissatisfaction."

Some in higher ed have suggested that there are many potential scenarios for the fall. Joshua Kim and Edward Maloney, teaching and learning specialists at Dartmouth College and Georgetown University, respectively, explored 15 of them in a blog post for Inside Higher Ed this week. Their list included a hybrid semester, a delayed start (like Macalester College has considered) or a block plan (which Beloit College and Centre College have already announced).

A survey from the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers suggested that 16 to 21 percent of institutions are considering a delayed start to the semester. Earlier this month, Georgetown told its continuing M.B.A. students that their semester would be pushed back two weeks, from Aug. 26 to Sept. 14.

Kim and Maloney noted that some universities may consider not holding the fall semester at all and reopening in 2021, as Stanford University has openly considered. At other universities, such as Cleveland State University, officials have said that is not on the table.

Staben said that a complete fall closure won't be possible for most universities with tenure-track faculty members who need to be paid.

"It's extremely difficult to even think about 15 different scenarios," he said. "My thinking as a former president would be you need to think of two or three scenarios that seem reasonably likely and perhaps try to plan for those."

Harvey Kesselman, president of Stockton University, in New Jersey, echoed that thinking. He said the college is really only considering an online semester, a completely normal semester or an in-person semester with some adjustments.

Kesselman emphasized that there is only so much planning that can occur internally.

"If [the governor of New Jersey] were to say, 'No, we're going to continue students learning remotely,' it really wouldn't matter what we said."

The urban-rural division that Staben contemplated isn't the only one that could unfold. With governors sometimes taking radically different approaches to the virus response, it's possible that the politics of a state could affect its opening. Southern states with Republican governors, such as Georgia, have been pursuing aggressive reopening plans in the hopes of limiting economic damage.

Pressure to Make a Decision

While colleges still have four months until the traditional start to the semester, and most have indicated that they are comfortable waiting, there is some pressure from incoming and prospective students to make a firm decision soon.

Low yields and declining rates at which students are completing the federal financial aid application indicate that many students may be rethinking their college decisions or sitting on the fence. Loss of income may mean a decreased ability to pay for college. For the more fortunate, the possibility of a virtual semester may mean not getting the college experience they envisioned.

Of course, all this could spell disaster for colleges, which have forecast catastrophic losses and responded with hiring freezes and pay cuts. The University of Arizona, which has said it is planning on a return to campus, said it's expecting to lose $250 million from the pandemic.

Staben said the University of Idaho is similarly seeing a decline in admissions yield. Those institutions that are telegraphing a decision, he said, may be trying to lessen uncertainty for students so they'll commit.

Faculty needs may also play into when a decision is made. The more notice instructors have, the better they can prepare their classes to go virtual. Some faculty union contracts may have stipulations about summer work.

Gregory Chris Brown, president of the California Faculty Association union chapter at Fullerton, said the union would like to be part of the decision making for fall, but currently is not.

"CFA's position is [faculty] should be compensated for the extra work that they're taking on changing modalities," he said.

San José State has said it plans to use the summer to train up to 500 faculty in online and hybrid teaching.

A Normal Semester, With Some Adjustments

"There is absolutely no tabletop exercise that can prepare an institution for this," said Kesselman, the Stockton president.

With an unprecedented catastrophe, decision makers are looking at some unprecedented changes.

Kesselman said that Stockton, which normally has 3,500 students living on campus, is making contingency plans in case the university is unable to house all of them due to social distancing. At the university's Atlantic City campus, that might include putting students up in empty casino or resort housing.

William Jewell College has said that all students will be able to receive a private residence upon request.

Other general possibilities include fall sports taking place without spectators or being canceled altogether.

Separating age groups or having the vulnerable work from home might involve classrooms full of students but with a lecturer teaching virtually.

Daniels at Purdue raised the possibility in his letter of testing students before arrival for infections and antibodies.

Bryan Alexander, a senior researcher at Georgetown University, said one scenario might include a "toggle" semester, where leaders need to be prepared to switch from in-person to online quickly as virus cases ebb and flow.

"Then campuses have to be ready to go both ways," he said.

The semester ahead will no doubt be rocky. The only thing to do is plan, though whether those plans will look anything like reality remains to be seen.

"Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth," said Staben, referencing a famous Mike Tyson quote.

"We've been hit in the mouth."

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Financial crisis related to coronavirus hits athletic departments

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 00:00

Ali Wahab learned on a Zoom call that he would no longer be a wrestler for Old Dominion University.

None of the 32 students in the program would be, either, his coaches said during the hastily arranged virtual meeting earlier this month when they announced the bad news. The university is eliminating the wrestling program, and the decision was made in part because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Regardless of understanding the circumstances or not, we thought that we were untouchable to getting cut because we’re some of the most consistent with our winning,” said Wahab, a senior who would have competed in his final year during the 2020-21 academic year. “I’m feeling angry about how they decided to cut wrestling and trying to hold myself back from saying something I shouldn’t every time someone talks about it.”

He said a “wound is still open” from the cut, which in the end will save the university around $1 million in expenses, a statement published by the university’s athletic department said. Current and incoming wrestlers with athletic scholarships such as Wahab will have them for an additional year, which he said is the least the university can do.

Old Dominion wrestling and the University of Cincinnati men’s soccer program are the early victims of what are likely to be more sports program cuts as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on the budgets of universities across the country. More “nonrevenue” athletic programs such as these, which have high operating costs and typically do not bring in any funds for athletic departments, could be on the chopping block as institutions assess the financial damage in the coming weeks and months.

Athletic departments are starting to have tough conversations about where cuts need to be made, said Sam Perelman, a second-year graduate student at Old Dominion and vice chair of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee, or SAAC. A “very low number” of athletic departments were profitable before the pandemic, and the slowing economy is making it harder for them to keep all their programs, said Perelman, who was speaking personally and not for the SAAC.

“You hate to see it,” said Perelman, who played his final year of tennis for Old Dominion last year. “There is such a financial strain at this point. Not just at ODU, but across the country.”

Perelman said most college athletes would hope that all other options are exhausted before programs are cut. But as commissioners of the NCAA's various Division I conferences consider the financial health of their member institutions, they are asking the association to temporarily reduce the number of sports each college is required to sponsor. This puts nonrevenue programs such as volleyball, wrestling, soccer and swimming and diving at risk of “extinction,” said Kathy DeBoer, executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

DeBoer and other leaders in the Intercollegiate Coach Association Coalition, or ICAC, oppose the proposal to waive the sport sponsorship requirement, which they see as a move to allow for the permanent dropping of certain sports, she said. College coaches' associations are discussing ways expenses can be reduced, but DeBoer called the suggestion that institutions should sponsor fewer sports “lethal and cruel and toxic.”

“Sports can recover from schedule changes and reductions. Sports can recover from staffing reductions and even scholarship reductions,” DeBoer said. “We can recover from anything but extinction. You don’t recover from extinction.”

Craig Thompson, commissioner for the Mountain West Conference, which is part of the Group of Five, "has been clear it’s not about cutting sports," Javan Hedlund, a spokesperson for the conference, said in an email. Hedlund noted that Thompson has repeatedly emphasized that he favors reductions in travel and the number of competitions held rather than elimination of programs. Thompson was not available for an interview.

The 130 institutions in Division I that are part of the Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS, in which the top football teams in the country compete, are required to sponsor at least 16 athletics programs including football, according to the NCAA’s bylaws. A minimum of six of these teams must be men's or mixed gender, and at least eight must be all-female programs, the bylaws say. There are a number of other requirements for institutions to be part of the FBS, such as minimums for financial aid awards granted to athletes and the number of contests scheduled.

All these requirements come at a cost to institutions, and commissioners of the Group of Five conferences, which represent 63 midmajor universities, sent a letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert to ask for a four-year waiver, given the current financial state of higher education. The waiver would provide college officials with “the ability to make prudent and necessary decisions for the financial well-being of the institution” while maintaining the colleges' status as FBS members, said the April 9 letter to Emmert signed by the five commissioners. Commissioners for the remaining 22 Division I conferences, outside the Power Five, have joined this request as well, ESPN reported.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and resultant economic turmoil has resulted in the direst financial crisis for higher education since at least the Great Depression,” the letter said. “Providing short-term relief from a handful of regulatory requirements will facilitate the opportunity for institutions to retrench and rebuild the financial structures of the institution.”

Large decreases in enrollment, state appropriations, philanthropy and endowment value are having a negative impact on colleges' bottom line, the commissioners explained. Division I institutions also saw a $375 million cut to their NCAA revenue distributions as a result of the cancellation of the March Madness men’s basketball tournament, and uncertainty surrounds the 2020-21 college football season.

The letter to Emmert also raises questions about institutions’ compliance with Title IX, the law prohibiting sex discrimination at federally funded colleges, which requires an “equal opportunity” for both men and women to participate in sports and receive scholarships. No conference or institution is likely to ask for Title IX compliance waivers, and they shouldn’t, said Amy Perko, CEO of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. Institutions with football programs would be left with “narrow” choices on which sports to cut, and nonrevenue men’s sports would specifically be at risk should NCAA leadership accept the commissioners’ request, she said.

DeBoer said it’s “shortsighted” to consider eliminating opportunities for college athletes who receive much fewer scholarships because they play non-revenue-generating sports. These athletes pay tuition and fees, she said.

“This is a time when higher education is losing enrollment,” DeBoer said. “We all know that athletics is one of the drivers to enrollment in higher education. It drives kids to college that wouldn’t normally go to college.”

The pandemic is a time of reckoning for Division I athletic departments, which have historically poured revenue into creating powerhouse facilities and programs but failed to save funds and prepare for a “blip in their system,” said Nick Schlereth, a recreation and sport management professor at Coastal Carolina University who studies collegiate athletics' cash flow. Departments are incentivized to build winning teams, not reserves, and if they overspend, they are typically covered by other university funds, he said.

“This is all the product of not being great stewards of the budget,” Schlereth said. “There’s been a lot of overspending. The times have always been good, and we haven’t thought about it.”

Less than half of athletic directors at institutions with the nation’s top Division I football teams have financial reserves for crises like the current pandemic, according to a recent survey of 100 directors conducted by the LEAD1 Association, which represents the 130 athletic directors in the FBS, and Teamworks, an athlete engagement platform. Forty-one percent of institutions in the Power Five conferences, which are made up of more than 50 large public universities, reported they have financial reserves, while just 26 percent of the Group of Five said they have funds saved.

Institutions in the Group of Five conferences rely much more on student fees and financial support from their universities, according to 2018 athletics budget data collected by the Knight Commission. As universities are beginning to announce revenue losses, hiring freezes and drops in enrollment, Group of Five athletics departments may become financially unstable, Schlereth said.

The Power Five, which includes the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference, collects almost all of its revenue from media-rights contracts for sports broadcasting, postseason football appearances, ticket sales and donors, Knight Commission data show. These universities and their highly competitive and profitable football programs are holding on to hope that the 2020-21 season will be played in some form or fashion. If not, $4.1 billion, an average of $78 million per institution, will be at risk, according to a USA Today Sports analysis of Power Five financial reports.

Perko said instead of asking individual athletic departments to make cuts, NCAA leaders should be discussing options to reduce operation costs broadly, particularly the nonrevenue sports, which rely largely on lucrative football and sometimes basketball programs. Discussions about restructuring current conferences “may seem like a radical suggestion,” but making them more regionally based, for example, could reduce the cost of athletes’ travel, Perko said.

“There’s already lots of conversations happening even among the conferences that have the most resources about how to offer some sports competitions in this coming year that are different from their traditional structure, to reduce cost, but also taking into account the crisis we’re dealing with,” Perko said.

The Division I Council, a 40-member legislative body of intercollegiate athletics officials and student athlete representatives, will meet twice at the end of this week to discuss any national solutions before the NCAA Board of Directors meets on April 28. It’s the time to "be creative and maybe even wave in new era of college athletics," said Perelman, who sits on the council.

“Every athletic department is a little bit different, but things are going to have to change,” Perelman said. “That’s the fact of the matter, at least for the short term.”

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Congress allocates more than $1 billion in stimulus funds for struggling minority-serving institutions

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 00:00

Presidents of colleges and universities that primarily serve black students heaved a collective sigh of relief when they learned their institutions would be getting a special allocation as part of the stimulus package approved by Congress last month.

That's because, in addition to the $12.2 billion coronavirus-related stimulus funding that went to higher education institutions, the legislation allocates approximately $1.05 billion in emergency aid to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs). Just over half of the funding will go to HBCUs, and for many of the 101 eligible institutions, the money can't come soon enough.

Most of these institutions -- relatively small, underresourced and highly dependent on revenue from student enrollment -- operate on very tight budgets and were already struggling financially before the pandemic. Many, but not all, were pushed precariously close to the edge of economic ruin by the public health crisis.

The colleges and their students lacked the technological infrastructure to easily move from in-person to remote instruction after evacuating their campuses and had to hustle to purchase new laptops, distance learning platforms and other technology. They also had to upgrade their internet capabilities and quickly train faculty and staff to teach and work fully online. The spending meant expenditures for which most of the colleges had not budgeted and could not afford.

“They were under duress,” said Lodriguez V. Murray, senior vice president for public policy and government affairs at the United Negro College Fund, which provides general scholarship funds for 37 private HBCUs. “Emergency spending always costs more than planned spending.”

Some of the colleges also refunded students for unused housing and meal plan fees. Others simply could not afford to -- and did not.

Murray said a president of an HBCU he declined to name approached him last month just before many of the institutions announced extended spring breaks and campus closures and told him the college was on the brink of financial ruin.

“If we don’t get help, we expect coronavirus to put us into the red by $2 million to $4 million by the end of the fiscal year,” Murray said the president told him. “This is an institution that does not have $2 to $4 million to give.”

While colleges of all types across the country are dealing with budgetary challenges, for HBCUs these new spending obligations can exacerbate their long-term financial standing and threaten their future viability. HBCU presidents are worried their institutions will be penalized by accreditors for having insufficient operating funds and placed on probation or stripped of accreditation outright, which Murray noted would then make the institutions ineligible for federal aid.

Harry L. Williams, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which represents and supports public HBCUs and predominantly black institutions (PBIs), also heard from several presidents who told him that housing and meal plan refunds cost their individual institutions amounts ranging from $8 to $9 million.

Students that attend HBCUs also faced challenges -- some 75 percent of them are from low- to moderate-income families and qualify for federal financial aid. Some returned home to communities where broadband access is limited or unavailable and would have difficulty accessing classes and other instruction online. The colleges had to provide these students the right technology to access instruction remotely. Other students could not afford the transportation costs to return home.

Students lost jobs, as did their family members, as businesses closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Others still had no homes to which to return. The colleges either paid those travel costs or paid for temporary housing for students.

“We’re hoping the campus will be able to recoup those dollars paid, which played a critical role in their cash flow,” Williams said.

His organization and the UNCF led the effort to lobby members of Congress to help the cash-strapped institutions. The organizations, along with the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, the umbrella organization of HBCUs and PBIs, jointly wrote to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos requesting flexibility in the rules stipulating how the money can be spent, to allow the universities to use some of the funds to reimburse themselves for the expenditures and recover their emergency outlays.

“This additional flexibility will allow schools to put previously restricted funds directly to use in addressing the new challenges that our schools and their students face during the ongoing health emergency,” Williams said.

The Department of Education has not yet responded. Williams noted that the new law allows the Education Department to loosen the spending restrictions on the other CARES Act funds that have already been appropriated to higher ed institutions.

Bipartisanship in Uncertain Times

Williams said the political significance of the special funding was not lost on HBCU administrators.

“This is unprecedented in terms of these dollars,” he said, “and we’re living in unprecedented times.”

He credited U.S. Representative Alma Adams, a North Carolina Democrat, founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus, for getting the ball rolling on the effort to get Congress to allocate the special funding, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, for building support among lawmakers.

“The critical thing to note is that not only Democrats supported it but Republicans, too, people from the red states where some of our schools are located,” Williams said. “It sent a very strong message. That type of collaboration has been very crucial to helping our schools.”

Looking Ahead

Many of the HBCUS are still providing students and faculty with the tools and support they need to make distant learning systems effective and keep students on track academically. The stimulus funds will help these institutions continue building capacity as they continue adjusting and adapting to the current teaching and learning environment and adopt new models for getting the job done.

North Carolina A&T University, an HBCU that is part of the University of North Carolina system, is in a good position to do just that, said Harold L. Martin Sr., chancellor of the university.

Although the university reimbursed students $8 million in housing and meal plan fees, it did not break the bank.

"Fortunately, we had the funds available and were able to reimburse our students appropriately," Martin said. But the university will now put off planned renovations to housing and dinning facilities on campus. And while housing, dining and custodial staff will continue to be paid until the end of the year, he said there will be a modest number of layoffs afterward.

"We're fortunately a university that’s been growing for the past six to seven years," he said. "We have been very effective in being strategic in how we invest those dollars. But as we move into summer and next fall, we may see fewer dollars through our state legislature to fund operations and activities. We may experience potential budget cuts and are making provisions for that."

What's more, if the pandemic continues and students are still taking classes remotely next fall, the university will be unable to charge or collect the same tuition and fees as it did in prior years.

"That will have a negative impact on the university and will result in a revenue shortfall," he said. "We’re managing through various possible scenarios."

Williams, of the Thurgood Marshall fund, said his organization is having discussions with member institutions about "different scenario planning" depending on what fall enrollment looks like.

"I would assume that social distancing continues in the fall and changes the dynamic of what campuses look like," he said, adding that students will be expecting different tuition and fee rates if they're not on campus. "That’s the reality of where we are, and those adjustments are going to have to be made."

He said state funding for higher education will loom large in any scenario and the ramifications of the pandemic on state budgets are already becoming apparent.

In Missouri, home to two HBCUs -- Lincoln University, a public, land-grant institution, and Harris-Stowe State University, which is also a public institution -- funding for higher education will be significantly reduced under a $180 million spending freeze announced earlier this month, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The plan would restrict $61.3 million from four-year institutions and $11.6 million from community colleges, $81.6 million in all from the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, the Dispatch reported.

For Lincoln the freeze meant a $1.4 million budget cut.

"At the end of the day, there are going to be even more challenges because we don’t have the luxury of large endowments to keep our schools going," Williams said. "So states maintaining their level of support is also critical."

Perhaps the current reality explains why presidents and chancellors of the 19 land-grant HBCUs have asked Congress to expand federal Pell Grants for low-income students and "to fund nearly $1.5 billion in healthcare-related degree programs and technological upgrades at the schools as a stabilizing investment in pandemic recovery throughout the south," according to HBCU Digest.

The institutions understand that keeping students engaged and enrolled is tied as much to the livelihoods of the colleges as it is to that of their students.

"The more students we keep in school, the more students we help graduate, and the more students we move into the middle class," Williams said.

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April 24 roundup: Hesitant parents, beauty schools and the Grim Reaper

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 00:00

We made it through another week!

Colleges are starting to make plans for the fall, states are starting to prepare for opening up and scientists are urgently yelling that this is not the end of the pandemic.

While the world is still a weird place right now, and will probably remain so for the foreseeable future, we can still relax with some palate cleansers.

Before we get to the fun stuff, a little bit of shameless self-promotion. I participated in a Future Trends Forum with Bryan Alexander and Michelle Pacansky-Brock about equity and the pandemic. If you want to check it out, you can find the video, and past videos, here.

Fun stuff! Yesterday was bring-your-kid-to-work day, apparently. That's kind of every day now, so here's an old video of The Washington Post interviewing journalists' kids.

A Florida man has vowed to roam the Sunshine State's beaches dressed as the Grim Reaper to keep people at bay if the stay-at-home order lifts on May 1.

Bored at home with some gaming equipment? The State University of New York is hosting an esports competition that will aid educational relief efforts.

Be sure to check out Monday's roundup, which will feature another special Q&A. Next week's interview focuses on tribal colleges and students.

Let’s get to the news.

Regional accrediting agencies are asking the Education Department to extend its March guidance that allowed accreditors to waive distance education review requirements.

A survey found that parents are hesitant about sending their kids to college in the fall if the semester will be all online.

William Jewell, a private liberal arts college in Missouri, is possibly the first college to say it intends to reopen in the fall.

The University of Maine system is offering in-state tuition prices to out-of-state students affected by coronavirus-related college closures. The catch? You must be "successful" -- but there's no clear guidelines on what that means.

Dozens of major scientific organizations signed a letter supporting proposed resolutions in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate that denounce anti-Asian racism related to COVID-19.

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

A lot happened yesterday. Perhaps the biggest news was elite institutions refunding, or refusing, federal stimulus money after being called out by President Trump and the education secretary. Doug Lederman has the details.

Kery Murakami wrote about beauty schools, which won a lot of funding from the CARES Act -- and thus ire from advocates who oppose for-profits.

I wrote about who was disadvantaged by the formula. Hint: the colleges that serve the most vulnerable student populations.

Colleen Flaherty has a story on how faculty are approaching grading and flexibility right now.

People of color are being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and many believe they would need more education to get back in the workforce, Emma Whitford reports.

News From Elsewhere

The gloves are off for admissions offices, which are pumping out deals to get students to enroll, The Hechinger Report writes.

Education Dive has a story on how career services offices are making the switch to digital.

Not all college students will get housing refunds. Those who are renting apartments from private landlords are stuck with the tab, even if they returned home to their parents, The Detroit Free Press reports.

Percolating Thoughts

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

Robert Kelchen wrote about what the coronavirus could mean for higher education on his blog.

Colleges should focus on improving the transfer experience, as students are likely to choose to stay closer to home and save money next year, according to the president of College Transfer Solutions LLC.

Emergency savings funds are part of financial literacy 101. But how long would it take Americans to actually save enough to cover one month of expenses? The answer, two opinion writers at The New York Times say, depends on how rich you are.

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

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

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In Germany, humanities scholars join discussions on ending lockdown

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 00:00

In the struggle against the new coronavirus, humanities academics have entered the fray -- in Germany, at least.

Arguably to a greater extent than has happened in Britain, France or the U.S., the country has enlisted the advice of philosophers, historians of science, theologians and jurists as it navigates the delicate ethical balancing act of reopening society while safeguarding the health of the public.

When the German federal government announced a slight loosening of restrictions on April 15 -- allowing small shops to open and some children to return to school in May -- it had been eagerly awaiting a report written by a 26-strong expert group containing only a minority of natural scientists and barely a handful of virologists and medical specialists.

Instead, this working group from the Leopoldina -- Germany’s independent National Academy of Sciences, which dates back to 1652 -- included historians of industrialization and early Christianity, a specialist on the philosophy of law, and several pedagogical experts.

This paucity of virologists earned the group a swipe from Markus Söder, minister-president of badly hit Bavaria, who has led calls in Germany for a tough lockdown (although earlier in the pandemic, the Leopoldina did release a report written by more medically focused specialists).

But “the crisis is a complex one, it’s a systemic crisis” and so it needs to be dissected from every angle, argued Jürgen Renn, director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and one of those who wrote the crucial recommendations.

Working together at an “incredibly quick” pace via Zoom, the group’s education specialists raised fears that school closures meant that children from poor families would fall further behind their wealthy peers, jurists wondered if restrictions on basic freedoms were legitimate and ethicists and philosophers stressed that stopping the spread of the coronavirus would depend far more on public willingness to fall in line with moral norms than any coercive state action, he explained.

And Renn -- who earlier this year published a book on rethinking science in the Anthropocene -- made the argument for green post-virus reconstruction. Urbanization and deforestation have squashed mankind and wildlife together, making other animal-to-human disease transmissions ever more likely, he argued. “It’s not the only virus waiting out there,” he said.

Germany’s Ethics Council -- which traces its roots back to the stem cell debates of the early 2000s and is composed of theologians, jurists, philosophers and other ethical thinkers -- also contributed to a report at the end of March, warning that it was up to elected politicians, not scientists, to make the “painful decisions” weighing up the lockdown’s affect on health and its other side effects.

“We have a direct line to the ministers and decision makers in Parliament,” said Joachim Vetter, the council’s director. “You can ask the virologists in the beginning, but as you go on, you need jurists, people from the economy, social scientists,” he argued, as the impact of lockdown ripples through society.

Other European countries also have bioethics councils -- some of which have issued their own recommendations on the coronavirus -- but Vetter argued that Germany had a particularly strong tradition of ethical debate. After the release of its report, the chair of the council appeared on a primetime evening news program. “You’re really in the main news,” he said.

The government of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, has also called on an eclectic mix of experts for advice. Otfried Höffe, a world authority on Immanuel Kant, has sat down with telecoms executives, business representatives and legal experts to chart a lockdown-exit strategy.

His role during the meetings was to ask “difficult questions” that might otherwise be overlooked, and in this, Höffe said, philosophy’s “rather good experience of 2,500 years” was an asset.

For example, there is a “danger” that the executive of a government might seek to hoard power during the pandemic, he explained.

While France has a tradition of public intellectuals, Höffe said, in Germany, academic philosophers have a stronger history of involvement in political discussion.

Germany’s involvement of the humanities in its coronavirus response appears to be the exception rather than the rule. In France, an 11-person-strong coronavirus scientific council assembled by the country’s president, Emmanuel Macron, at the end of March is composed almost entirely of disease experts, epidemiologists, disease modelers and medics -- it features only a single sociologist and one anthropologist.

The British government has controversially kept the identities of experts on most of its coronavirus advisory committees secret (the Department of Health and Social Care did not respond to a Times Higher Education request for information).

According to the Institute for Government think tank, during pandemics, the British government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies draws on “epidemiologists, virologists, clinicians, behavioral scientists, systems scientists and engineers,” although one advisory subcommittee that looks at how people behave in times of crisis can involve historians.

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Colleges start new academic programs

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 00:00
  • Carthage College is starting a sports management track in its master of science in business program.
  • Linfield College is starting an online master of science in nursing.
  • MiraCosta College is starting an associate degree for transfer and a certificate of achievement in social work and human services that is completely online.
  • University of Maine at Farmington is starting a master of arts in counseling psychology with an emphasis in creative arts.
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Under pressure from Trump administration, wealthy colleges forgo stimulus funds

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 00:00

As the world's richest university, with an endowment of roughly $40 billion, Harvard University is frequently an easy target for those who want to make a point about the uneven distribution of wealth. So it's not surprising that Harvard was at the center of a dispute Wednesday in which Trump administration officials sought to embarrass universities with big endowments for considering taking federal stimulus funds meant to help needy students.

Wednesday afternoon, 24 hours after President Trump predicted at a news conference that “Harvard’s going to pay back the money” and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged institutions "with large endowments" to forgo funds from the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, the university announced that it would, indeed, do just that.

The university will face "significant financial challenges" because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing recession, and it neither requested nor received any funds awarded through the congressionally approved program, its officials said in a statement. But "we are … concerned … that the intense focus by politicians and others on Harvard in connection with this program may undermine participation in a relief effort that Congress created and the President signed into law for the purpose of helping students and institutions whose financial challenges in the coming months may be most severe."

The CARES Act, which Congress approved in March as an initial attempt to blunt the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic, included roughly $12 billion in funding for higher education, split about equally between funds for students displaced by the pandemic and for institutions facing unexpected costs. The law's formula -- "purely mechanical," as one higher education lobbyist pointed out -- allocated the money for students to colleges based on how many low-income students they enroll, and the money for the institutions based on their enrollments of full-time students.

In recent days, conservative websites had criticized Harvard and other wealthy institutions for considering taking the money it was in line to receive. Harvard was allocated $8.6 million. Tuesday evening, President Trump joined the fray, bringing up Harvard in response to a question about the flow of money from a different stimulus program designed to help small businesses survive the coronavirus-driven economic shutdown.

“They have one of the largest endowments anywhere in the country, maybe in the world, I guess, and they’re going to pay back that money,” the president said.

That led Harvard to respond in a war of words of sorts with the president -- via Twitter, perhaps appropriately enough.

"President Trump is right that it would not have been appropriate for our institution to receive funds that were designated for struggling small businesses," the university said, noting that it was in line for funds from the higher education relief fund.

"Harvard has committed that 100 percent of these emergency higher education funds will be used to provide direct assistance to students facing urgent financial needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic," it continued. "This financial assistance will be on top of the support the university has already provided to students -- including assistance with travel, providing direct aid for living expenses to those with need and supporting students’ transition to online education."

Wednesday morning, though, DeVos -- echoing the sentiments of an April 9 letter to college and university presidents -- issued a statement saying that "wealthy institutions that do not primarily serve low-income students do not need or deserve additional taxpayer funds." She also urged Congress to change its rules for distributing the stimulus funds. "This is common sense. Schools with large endowments should not apply for funds so more can be given to students who need support the most."

DeVos did not single Harvard out by name. But she praised Stanford University, which earlier Wednesday had announced that it would forgo the stimulus funds, even though, “like all universities, Stanford is facing significant financial pressures during this time of unprecedented uncertainty. However, we realize that this crisis represents an existential threat for many of the smaller colleges and universities that are such a critical part of the fabric of higher learning in the United States.”

Kudos to @Stanford for withdrawing its application for #CARESAct funds. As I’ve said since day 1, wealthy institutions like @Harvard don't need this money. They should follow Stanford's lead & embrace the @ShakeShack principle -- leave the $$ for those with the greatest need!

— Secretary Betsy DeVos (@BetsyDeVosED) April 22, 2020

Princeton University, another of the wealthiest universities in the country, followed suit later Wednesday afternoon, though with a twist. Its statement said that the university would not accept funding allocated under the CARES Act, and specifically mentioned its need to support students who are in the U.S. without proper documentation, whom the Trump administration determined Tuesday would be ineligible for the emergency aid.

Late Wednesday afternoon, perhaps boxed into a corner by its peers, Harvard conceded that it, too, had "decided not to seek or accept the funds allocated to it by statute."

"We will inform the Department of Education of our decision and encourage the department to act swiftly to reallocate resources previously allocated to Harvard," university officials said. "While we understand any reallocation of these resources is a matter for the Department of Education, we hope that special consideration will be given to Massachusetts institutions that are struggling to serve their communities and meet the needs of their students through these difficult and challenging times."

Politics or Policy?

Iris Palmer, a senior adviser for higher education and workforce in the education program at New America, a Washington think tank, said administration officials were "not wrong that [Harvard] can afford to provide for all their needy students without federal money." She called Harvard a "politically convenient punching bag" for politicians like President Trump.

But she noted that the lines are not clear-cut about which institutions might be deserving, and not, of stimulus funds. While Harvard was certainly due more money than many of its surrounding community colleges, the congressionally approved formula allocates funds for institutions (as opposed to the money directed to students) in part to compensate colleges for housing disruptions, which would by design affect residential colleges more than commuter institutions.

And while Harvard's endowment may strike many observers as unequivocally too large to warrant receiving taxpayer money, "how far down the endowment list" do you say that? Palmer said. "That's why this is more of a political question than a policy question."

An official of a major research university said it was "totally predictable" that the Trump administration would use the current situation for an "attack" on prestigious universities. Every wealthy university would essentially be a "pass-through" for the funds to its financially neediest students, the official said, citing numerous students whose "summer earnings are not going to happen, or whose families' financial circumstances have changed for the worse."

"Of course you’re going to help your neediest students," the university representative said. "And you'll use whatever money that frees up to maybe help students who aren't the absolute neediest neediest … or maybe loosen up some money so we could continue to find a cure" for the coronavirus.

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Community colleges, regional publics lost in formula for CARES Act funds

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 00:00

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Education released figures on how much each college will receive from the $12 billion set aside for higher education in the coronavirus stimulus package passed by Congress last month.

It's hard to say definitively who the winners and losers are, as the funds were parsed out by a specific formula. But that formula proved to disadvantage some of the institutions that may need the most help right now.

"I think it was pretty clear from Congress that the intent was to really focus on the need of students at institutions from the fact that they so heavily weighed the formula toward full-time Pell Grant recipients," said Megan McClean Coval, vice president at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

One of the key phrases in that sentence? "Full-time Pell Grant recipients."

"The way it reads to me, the formula was designed to help schools with the most full-time enrollment, and that inherently disadvantages a large part of the student population," said Clare McCann, deputy director for federal policy at New America. "I think we do see a lot of those institutions that you might not expect rise to the top, when we’re typically talking about community colleges as the workforce driver."

For example, Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana has nearly 62,000 students and received about $33 million. Georgia State University has an undergraduate enrollment of 25,000 and received $45 million.

Sixty-five percent of community college students are enrolled part-time, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Part-time students are also more likely to be nonwhite, low-income and first-generation students than their full-time counterparts, according to a report from Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit organization dedicated to community college student success. They're also more likely to be working full-time and taking care of family members.

Looking at the statistics, part-time students are more likely to need the support provided by the formula, but they weren't counted. ​

It would have made more sense to use two formulas for the funding: one for aid to institutions for operational losses, and one for emergency aid to go directly to students, McCann said.

"If you're thinking of aid for students, the need is probably larger for part-time students who may have lost jobs," she said. "The formula for student aid could discount neither online nor part-time status." ​

It was difficult for higher education leaders to devise a formula in a short period of time and anticipate all of the consequences, according to Karen Stout, executive director of Achieving the Dream.

Still, the consequences are clear now.

"It’s hard for community colleges to be less valued when you look at the vulnerable students that we’re serving, and those are the same vulnerable students that are out in the workforce right now," she said.

The funding disparity will have ripple effects on students of color, many of whom attend community colleges, and low-income students.

Stout would like to see a new version of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training grants to stifle those inequities and help the workforce in the future, and more flexibility with financial aid with professional judgment allowances.

"The move to remote learning has amplified what we already know about community college students. They’re vulnerable, and they’re even more vulnerable now," she said. "We don’t want this to reinforce those inequities."

Four-year regional public institutions also likely got the short end of the stick because they tend to enroll more part-time students than public flagship universities do. In a recession, there's usually hope that college enrollments -- particularly in low-cost institutions, like regional four-years and community colleges -- will bounce back as people try to up their skills.

But that's a big question mark this time around, McCann said.

"My gut instinct is that regional publics are particularly vulnerable because they are both underfunded and somewhat more dependent on that enrollment question," she said. "But community colleges are very severely underfunded as well, and if the circumstances don’t shake out in their favor, it could be very hard."

A lack of data was another problem for Congress, McCann said. Lawmakers had to build something around metrics that don't exist, like how many people were enrolled this year exclusively in online education.

"Had we only passed the College Transparency Act, we would’ve had that data," she said. "This gets back to why passing a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is so important. Congress is making decisions on things that we don’t actually even know."

Ben Miller, vice president of postsecondary education for the Center on American Progress, doesn't think anyone necessarily won with this stimulus formula.

"Everything’s really, really terrible for everybody," he said.

Community colleges definitely lost a bit more because of the use of full-time-equivalent enrollment instead of overall head-count numbers. Largely online schools, like the University of Phoenix, lost big because of the exclusion of online-only students. The inclusion of graduate students benefited wealthier institutions.

But the worst offense, Miller said, is how the funding is delivered.

"There was a fundamental error on the front end of not running any money through the states," he said. If money had been run through the states for public colleges, those institutions would've benefited much more than they have. ​

If Miller were to write the formula, he would have guaranteed allotments through the states, limited funding for for-profit institutions to emergency student aid and used head-count enrollment numbers, he said.

For some, the way funding shook out wasn't a shock.

"We are continually asked to do the most with the least," said Jason Kosnoski, associate professor of political science at the University of Michigan at Flint. "It’s a travesty, but I guess it’s not a surprising travesty."

Kosnoski is also part of the One University campaign, asking the university to provide more equitable funding to its Dearborn and Flint campuses. The flagship Ann Arbor campus received more than $24.2 million in funding from the stimulus, while Flint received $4.6 million.

Ann Arbor's campus has about five times as many students as Flint's campus does. But nearly all of the students at Flint are in-state students, while half at Ann Arbor are from out of state.

The regional campuses, and other colleges like them, also teach more working-class, first-generation and nonwhite students, Kosnoski said.

"Our universities teach students who are going to stay in the state. We teach students who are going to do the type of work that is considered necessary," like nursing and law enforcement, he said.

The full ramifications of the pandemic on higher education are yet to be seen, McClean Coval said.

"I think investing more in students and institutions in the fourth package will be much needed from Congress," she said.

A coalition of higher education groups is calling for at least $47 billion in future stimulus packages. But even that might not be enough, depending on how many states cut their budgets and by how much, Miller said.

"Each successive recession appears to be worse and worse for higher education," he said. "​Community colleges and regional four-years already do a disproportionate job serving our lowest-income learners and learners of colors. I would anticipate that further cuts will continue to have disparate equity impacts."

If the sector doesn't get the funding it needs to ride out this storm, the future could hold higher tuition, more adjunct labor and the "hollowing out of the academic enterprise," Miller said.

"What Congress did a few weeks ago wasn’t even enough for what the crisis was in March, and things are only to get worse from here," he said. "We need much greater dollars distributed in a way that emphasizes the need to protect our public colleges."

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Beauty schools get $160 million in higher education stimulus funds from CARES Act

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 00:00

Neil Heller, who owns two beauty school chains, apologized for being on the phone when a reporter called Tuesday.

“I was putting in an order for hand sanitizer,” he said from his home in Hollywood, Fla., which, as is the case for many people, has been functioning as Heller's office. A small bottle of hand sanitizer sat on his desk, as did the mask he puts on when he goes out.

While much has been made of the struggles of colleges and universities during the pandemic, Heller’s schools -- the Hollywood Institute of Beauty Careers and Cortiva Institutes, which teaches skin care and massage -- also had to go online.

But there’s only so much students can learn about doing hair, painting nails or putting on makeup from watching a video. Soon, Heller hopes, his students and instructors will be back to working hands-on.

Which is why, in addition to ordering 96 gallons of hand sanitizer, Heller said he’s also ordering 26,000 face masks.

However, according to an Inside Higher Ed tally of who will receive the billions in funds Congress set aside for higher education, beauty schools are getting tens of millions of dollars in help.

When Congress passed its coronavirus relief package last month, known as the CARES Act, it included about $12 billion to help colleges and universities that are reeling from the financial hit of the pandemic to the point where some are on the brink of shutting down. Half the money must go to students through emergency grants.

But besides the money going to institutions such the University of California and for-profit institutions like Grand Canyon University, $26.5 million in higher education dollars is going to the Paul Mitchell beauty schools. Higher education dollars are also headed in smaller amounts to about 700 other beauty schools, like Arnold’s Beauty School in Milan, Tenn., which will get $68,240, or the B-Unique Beauty and Barber Academy in Greenville, S.C., which will get $71,620.

Heller's Hollywood Institute of Beauty Careers will get $1.5 million, and the Cortiva Institutes will get almost $3 million.

Mr. John's School of Cosmetology & Nails, located in Jacksonville, Fla., will get $52,727, while Mr. John's School of Cosmetology, Esthetics & Nails in Decatur, Ill., will get $115,442, and Mr. Leon's School of Hair Design in Moscow and Lewiston, Idaho, will get $89,201, according to Education Department data.

In all, beauty schools, including hair, nail, esthetician and cosmetology and barber schools, will get $164 million in higher education funds from the stimulus package. The students who receive grant aid from the stimulus are those who are eligible to receive federal financial aid, now and before the pandemic.

Two large chains, Paul Mitchell and Empire Beauty Schools, are receiving enough to be among the top 10 winners among the for-profit sector. The $26 million Paul Mitchell is receiving and the $18.3 million going to Empire are about the same as what was allocated to the University of Michigan, which is receiving $25.2 million, or the Universities of Oklahoma and Kentucky, which each are getting about $18 million.

‘Not a Time to Fight About Sectors’

That tens of millions of dollars are going to train hairstylists, barbers and manicurists instead of scientists and doctors is not drawing the ire of associations that represent colleges and universities in Washington, D.C., even as they lament that the $14 billion share of the CARES Act is not nearly enough to deal with the financial fallout of the pandemic and are asking for another $46 billion as a growing number of colleges announce employee furloughs and layoffs.

The $160 million going to beauty schools is a relatively small amount, making up about 9 percent of the $1.1 billion in higher education stimulus funds allocated to for-profits, according to the analysis by Inside Higher Ed. And even the money going to Paul Mitchell Schools, which did not return emails for comment, pales compared to the $63 million the stimulus package's biggest higher education winner, Arizona State University, is getting.

“When there’s a vast need there for emergency aid for students and institutions, it’s not a time to fight about sectors or shares,” said Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education’s senior vice president for government and public affairs.

Meanwhile, a Republican aide on the Senate education committee argued in an email that “All Title IV-eligible institutions are eligible for aid. It’s elitist to suggest that working-class, technical and career-oriented institutions shouldn’t receive assistance. Their students are among the hardest hit by the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, and when schools are allowed to reopen, these institutions are going to be part of the recovery.”

But what the funding for beauty schools does point to, said David Baime, the American Association of Community Colleges’ senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis, is how higher education funding is stretched across all sorts of kinds of institutions. When Congress decided to fund for-profits in the stimulus package, the fact “that it would be funding a wide range of every imaginable educational program just comes with the territory,” he said.

In distributing the money, Congress set a formula based on colleges' enrollment numbers of low-income students who are eligible to receive Pell Grants. Because students can use those federal grants for a variety of kinds of postsecondary programs, the stimulus funds are going to a wide range of institutions, including those training ballet dancers, acupuncturists, massage therapists and, in the case of Charlie's Guard-Detective Bureau and Academy in Puerto Rico, private detectives.

Higher education groups “are fatalistic about it,” Baime said, referring to the idea that higher education money is spread widely.

Indeed, the $160 million to train people to make other people look better doesn’t include the $37,149 in higher education dollars going to the Merryfield School of Pet Grooming, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Or the $5,656 going to the Pets Playground Grooming School in Pompano Beach, Fla.

And colleges likely will need Congress to provide even more higher education funds than the $46 billion more the industry is seeking, because that amount does not include the cut for beauty and other schools.

However, beauty and other schools may be caught up in controversy over funding some types of for-profits after a number of high-profile scandals in the sector, such as the high-profile collapse of Corinthian Colleges and examples of for-profits misleading prospective students about their prospects of being able to find work after completing programs.

Earlier this week, congressional Democrats, including Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, wrote legislative leaders in opposition to allocating additional education stimulus dollars to for-profits.

Though the senators have not singled out beauty schools, some institutions in that sector have been criticized for charging high tuition when they often lead to low-paying jobs. Baime said all for-profits that receive federal education dollars should be held accountable if students don't make enough money to repay student loans, although opponents of the idea say its unfair to single out for-profits for the scrutiny.

Cosmetology Online

Heller, however, said the thing about cutting someone’s hair or doing their nails or putting makeup on them is that you need to be within six feet of their head, fingers or toes. And he said cosmetology schools are struggling as much as colleges.

“It’s had a tremendous impact on beauty schools,” he said. “We don't typically teach online. None of us had done that before.”

At his schools, students typically do some hands-on work with mannequins or plastic hands at the beginning of courses. But instructors also teach the theory behind styling hair or doing makeup. Right now, that’s what students are learning online, he said.

But to get licensed, students eventually will work on real clients at hair studios, with an instructor close by. Heller hopes the studios will be open in June. But for now, they’re closed.

His schools also are considering other changes, like having manicurists work from behind plastic. "If you’ve been to Whole Foods lately, they have Plexiglas at the checkout counters. We’ve been looking into that," he said. But that would cost money.

Many of his students are from minority groups and are low income. Some also have children who are no longer going to school during the pandemic. With many not having computers at home or having to take care of their kids, about half have dropped out, he said.

“It’s unfair that some out there in Congress are trying to make a distinction over which schools and colleges be funded,” he said.

And, he argued, they’re not like big universities like Harvard, which was criticized by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday for taking stimulus dollars instead of drawing on its $40 billion endowment. (The university has said it will not accept its stimulus money, as have several other wealthy universities.)

"We’re not huge schools with millions of dollars in endowments and access to money from alumni," he said. "We’re small business operators, and we’re being severely impacted."

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How lenient, or not, should professors be with students right now?

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 00:00

Steven D. Krause, professor of English at Eastern Michigan University, says he used to be stickler for deadlines and attendance. He deducted letter grades for assignments every 72 hours that they were late and failed students who didn't contribute to virtual class discussions. Then COVID-19 happened.

Now, he says, "I’m starting to really rethink the value of being such a hard-ass instead of trying to be like an empathetic human."

Why the shift? Krause says he uncharacteristically spent a few hours trying to track down students who hadn't checked in or who missed deadlines during the pandemic. He found out they were really struggling, with unemployment, extra caregiving, hospital jobs that had them overwhelmed or scared (or both), and poor or no internet service at home.

Those conversations prompted Krause to extend deadlines, abandon penalties for late work and cut big chunks of assignments due at the end of term. The revelations also prompted Krause to write a blog post called “No One Should Fail a Class Because of a Fucking Pandemic.”

“I have told students repeatedly that as long as they stay in touch with me and as long as they give it all a try, they will all at least pass the class,” he wrote. “Because look, even my hard-assed, aloof professor persona believes no one should fail a class because of a fucking pandemic.”

Beyond Pass-Fail

Beyond pass-fail policies, which are generally adopted at the institutional level, individual professors are cutting nonessential course content, moving deadlines to the end of the term, dropping low assignment grades and grading leniently overall.

Historian Kevin Gannon, director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching at Grand View University and author of Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto (West Virginia University Press), out this month, said he’s a “big proponent of adjusting our grading significantly” right now.

It’s impossible to argue that students are getting the same experiences and opportunities via remote learning during the public health crisis. “So to assess like that's still the case is ludicrous,” he said. Many students are doing extra caregiving and other work, for example, while campus closures mean that they can’t access libraries, tutoring and support services like they did before.

Grading as if things are “normal,” Gannon said, “strikes me as the equivalent of giving someone a swimming test during a flood.”

In a survey of professors released this week by Bay View Analytics, almost two-thirds of respondents said they changed "the kinds of assignments or exams" they gave to students in the switch to remote learning. Just about half said they lowered their expectations for the amount of work students would be able to do. The same share also "dropped some assignments or exams."

Roughly one-third of the sample "lowered the expectations about the quality of work that my students will be able to do." Fewer respondents (18 percent) said they dropped some planned readings.

Gannon said that just how professors adjust coursework and assessment is up to them alone.

“It's such a context-dependent thought process in so many ways, so faculty are the best positioned to make the most equitable decisions.”

Not a ‘Real A’?

Not all professors are changing their expectations for students. Some faculty members report hearing from their students that their other professors are refusing to shift deadlines or attendance policies for synchronous class meetings, for example.

Those professors probably have some fans outside academe. David Brooks, for instance, wrote a recent New York Times column saying that grade inflation and other means of “coddling” students have gone way too far, especially in certain fields. He argued that this is an opportunity to reset, as training a young person means “training her or him to master hardship, to endure suffering and, by building something new from the wreckage, redeem it.”

Still, many professors strongly disagree that now is the time to talk about putting students through an academic crucible.

Jessica Calarco, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University, said she’d seen criticisms of relaxed grading policies for students on social media, such as “Who would want a doctor who didn’t get a real A?”

Her response? “I’d personally argue that someone shouldn’t be prevented from being a doctor in the future because of hardships they’re facing in their life right now.”

In Calarco’s own classes, she’s focused on “giving my students the opportunity to learn, as opposed to holding them accountable for achieving a set of learning outcomes. I’m giving my students, as equitably as possible, a chance to keep learning the materials that they came into the course expecting to learn.”

She added, “Whatever they want to get out of it or are able to get out of it is OK with me. I don’t want to be a stressor, adding that to their lives in what is already a challenging moment.”

Student Response

To Calarco, grades right now aren’t necessarily a measure of skills or ability, but rather the socioeconomic and other privileges students have -- or don’t. No one in her classes will get a worse grade than they had pre-pandemic. Students were incredulous at first, she said.

How is the approach working? For a class of 250 students, Calarco lectures live on Microsoft Teams. About 30 to 50 students show up for each session, and others watch the videos and read the transcripts later.

Krause emphasized in an email that he's not relaxing standards but adopting "pandemic emergency standards." In any case, he said, "my students are with me on this. I have a few students who would have otherwise had better grades who are going to opt into the pass-fail option, and sure, I probably have some students taking advantage of the lightened load. And there's been a little grade-grubbing, but whatever, that happens almost every term. Mostly I think my students are grateful."

As for pass-fail, Calarco said she worried about institutions making it an option rather than a requirement. The former, she said, “leaves a student vulnerable to judgment for choosing pass-fail.”

Prerequisites

Harvard Medical School, as one example, has said that it will not accept pass-fail grades in prerequisite courses from applicants who chose that method of grading where it was optional. It will, however, accept pass-fail prerequisite course grades from students that attend institutions where it is a blanket policy. (Harvard University’s undergraduate college adopted a universal pass-fail policy last month).

Amihai Glazer, professor of economics at the University of California, Irvine, wrote in an Inside Higher Ed column that institutions should consider canceling spring terms where possible. Short of that, Glazer said in an interview that professors might relax standards for some students right now -- but not all.

Specifically, Glazer advocated maintaining typical standards for upper-division courses populated by students closest to graduation.

“They won’t have time to make it up,” he said. “And lowering standards for upper-division classes will hurt students once they’re on the job market.”

Junior and senior engineering students will soon graduate and encounter opportunities that require they know about bridge design, for example, Glazer said. Any program that doesn't demand that they struggle to understand that topic -- or to discover they don't like it, or that it's not one of their strengths -- will fail them.

Giving all students A’s, as has been proposed by some student advocates, would also hurt students on the job market, Glazer said, arguing that employers are savvy enough to know which institutions or programs are doing so. Moreover, employers who typically recruit top students from lesser-known programs might discriminate on similar grounds, if everyone in their year gets an A.

“This idea that we’re punishing students if they don’t all get high grades assumes employers are stupid,” Glazer said.

What about students who don’t necessarily want to be engineers or work in one specific field?

Glazer said he didn’t know the ins and outs of, say, English literature prerequisites. He did suggest that professors consider relaxing standards for nonmajors who are only taking their courses as electives or general education requirements, however, so that they may focus on their major courses.

Opportunity vs. Evaluation

Christina DeJong, an associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University, is teaching a prerequisite course in introduction to linear regression for first-year doctoral students. Her options for cutting content are few, as students need to be prepared for the next course in the sequence.

That said, DeJong removed individual deadlines so that students may prioritize other classes with unchanged due dates. She also decided to drop each student’s two lowest assignment grades this term.

So far, students in that class are “are highly motivated and haven't seemed to have any trouble.”

For her undergraduate general education courses, DeJong did cut some material so students could prioritize courses within their majors. She also removed due dates so students could work at their own pace. And she let students know the minimum points required for each letter grade so they could set their own priorities, based on their specific needs.

For obvious reasons, this academic term is unique. But Calarco said the experience has increased her interest in ungrading, a growing movement that embraces ongoing formative feedback over summative assessments.

“I’m seriously looking at moving ahead with that in future semesters,” she said, “making myself an opportunity for students to learn, instead of an evaluator of students' learning.”

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People of color, disproportionately affected by pandemic, expect to need more education if laid off, survey shows

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 00:00

Most Americans -- 62 percent -- are worried they will lose their jobs amid the coronavirus outbreak and the economic downturn it has caused, according to an ongoing survey from Strada Education Network. More than 50 percent have so far lost jobs, hours or wages.

People of color are more worried. Almost three-quarters, 72 percent, of Latino and Asian Americans fear losing work, as do 68 percent of black Americans, compared with 57 percent of white Americans.

Strada’s survey on the pandemic's impact on education and work has entered its fifth week. During a webcast Wednesday, researchers pointed out a key theme emerging from the weeks of results: people of color have been disproportionately impacted by the outbreak.

“With the widespread disruption of work and loss of hours and jobs and income, it’s playing out differently across different communities,” said Dave Clayton, senior vice president for consumer insights at Strada. “The Latino American population are more likely to lose hours or shifts or wages, but the black American population is more likely to actually be laid off and lose a job.”

In past weeks, Strada found that a third of Americans say they would need more education should they lose their job and seek another. This week researchers had gathered enough responses to break down results by race. More than a third, 38 percent, of Latino Americans and 36 percent of Asian Americans believe they would need further education should they lose their job.

"For once I would love to finally dispel this myth that Latinos don’t value education," said Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia in Education, during a webcast about the survey results. "We’ve known for years that’s not the case. It still comes up in policy conversations. When you ask them if they think they can get additional education, you’re seeing the answer is yes."

Clayton plans to dig into the additional education question further. Strada has added a question to the survey about what outcomes people will seek when enrolling in education programs within the next six months.

"Would it be a credential, certificate or license?" Clayton asked. "Would it be one or more courses to acquire a skill? Would it be one or more courses for personal interest? Would it be to pursue a degree -- an associate or undergraduate degree?"

He also wants to know how confident respondents are in knowing what skills they would need to replace a job or find a new one, and whether they know where to go to acquire those skills.

Over all, anxieties about the pandemic are trending downward. Clayton said that from its peak, overall concern about the coronavirus outbreak and its impact is down about eight percentage points. Today, just below half of respondents are feeling generally worried or believe the outbreak will negatively impact their finances.

“That surprises me,” he said. “I thought, ‘deaths have quadrupled in the last two weeks, unemployment has doubled again,’ and yet there’s stability in people’s expectations about the problems.”

He wonders if it’s because the adrenaline of the initial outbreak is wearing off.

“People are monitoring the news less intensely than they were two or three weeks ago, and they’re continuing with their lives,” he said.

The week-four survey was conducted between April 15 and 16 and gathered responses from 1,016 individuals.

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April 23 roundup: Funding rejections, Canada's plan and Earth Day

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 00:00

Time's arrow marches forward, as they say. We're nearing May, when many states have scheduled the tentative end of their stay-at-home orders. It'll be interesting to see how many get extended.

On to lighter news, though.

Times are tough, but people are tougher. Health-care professionals are leaving their homes during this scary time to help others where it's most needed, like New York City. The Akron Beacon Journal has a touching story on the good work some people are doing, including health-care instructors from community colleges.

Yesterday was also Earth Day. There was a nice livestream featuring artists across the world, and here are some roundups featuring photos from the first Earth Day 50 years ago.

And, most importantly, photos of animals roaming the streets as humans stay home.

All right, we are cleansed. Let’s get to the news.

Elite private institutions are under fire after receiving aid from the coronavirus stimulus package (through a formula that was devised by Congress). President Trump called on Harvard University to gives its allotment back, and Stanford University announced it wouldn't take the aid it was offered. Princeton University also rejected its funding.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos later called on other wealthy institutions to reject their stimulus funding as well.

In other news, Southern New Hampshire University plans to reduce its tuition for campus-based programs to $10,000 a year by 2021 -- more than a 50 percent cut.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is giving a $4 million emergency relief grant to the American Indian College Fund to help tribal colleges and universities get through the pandemic.

Canada is one-upping the U.S. with plans to give college students and new graduates monthly payments of 1,250 Canadian dollars (about $844) from May to August. Students who are disabled or taking care of dependents will get 1,750 Canadian dollars (about $1,236).

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

Students who are undocumented immigrants aren't eligible for emergency aid from the CARES Act, the Education Department says. Kery Murakami has the details.

What can public college systems do to help their odds? Emma Whitford talked to some experts for some ideas.

Some students at colleges that aren't switching to a pass-fail grading system are petitioning administrators to change their minds, calling it an equity issue, Elizabeth Redden reports.

Doug Lederman reports on a survey looking at how faculty changed their teaching methods for the quick shift to remote learning.

News From Elsewhere

NPR talked with some of higher ed's heavy hitters about what will happen in the fall.

Pro sports has the money to adapt to social distancing measures. College sports, not so much. The Associated Press analyzed the way forward for college athletics.

The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote about the legal risks colleges could face from COVID-19.

Percolating Thoughts

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

Zoom is supposed to let us replicate our former lives in a safe way. Why does it seem so exhausting, then? A University of Notre Dame professor explains.

The president of Hunter College encourages people to use this summer for education.

A university librarian talks about her fight to close the libraries but pay her peers, so they don't have choose between wages and health.

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

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

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DACA students excluded from emergency stimulus grants

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 00:00

College students who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children aren’t eligible for emergency aid Congress set aside in its stimulus package to help students who have experienced disruptions due to the closure of campuses during the coronavirus epidemic, the Education Department said Tuesday.

The announcement came as the department released more details about how higher education funds in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act stimulus package, approved by Congress last month, can be used.

Beyond excluding so-called DACA students, the department’s attempt to bring more clarity muddled the question of which students can get emergency help, making it even more difficult for colleges to get money in the hands of those who need it, said Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education’s senior vice president for government and public affairs.

The CARES Act had split roughly $12 billion in higher education funding, with half going to colleges and universities to help defray the financial impact of the pandemic on institutions.

The other half will go to students through emergency grants to help them pay for a variety of needs, ranging from buying tickets home after their campuses were closed to getting needed computers as courses have moved online.

In making $6.2 billion available to institutions for the emergency grants two weeks ago, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had said she largely would leave it up to institutions to decide who’d get help.

But after colleges said they were confused about how the money could be used, the department released a question-and-answer sheet to try to add clarity. In the letter the department said the grants could only go to students who are eligible for federal aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. That excludes those brought to the U.S. illegally as children, who were given the right to live and work in the country lawfully under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Angela Morabito, a department spokeswoman, said in an email that it was Congress’s decision to exclude DACA students. “The CARES Act makes clear that this taxpayer-funded relief fund should be targeted to U.S. citizens, which is consistently echoed throughout the law,” she said.

However, others like David Bergeron, former acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education at the department and a current senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the stimulus bill left the department flexibility to cover DACA students if it wanted.

Hartle agreed. "The Department of Education owns this decision. Period," he said.

Sanaa Abrar, advocacy director for United We Dream Network, which advocates for people in the DACA program, blasted the decision. "Immigrants play an essential role in our society, and now they serve as front-line workers responding to COVID-19," she said. "Yet immigrants have been largely left out of COVID-19 relief efforts."

Meanwhile, the Q&A adds confusion for campus leaders in trying to decide who can get the grants, said Daniel Madzelan, ACE's associate vice president for government and public affairs.

The section of the higher education law cited by the department’s guidance includes a host of considerations for institutions to explore before giving out the grants -- including whether students are making sufficient academic progress and whether they have ever had a drug arrest.

That’s a problem for “campuses who want to get the money out quickly but not get into trouble with the Department of Education,” Hartle said. “It was pretty clear the intent [of the CARES Act] was to get aid to all students, but this seems to narrow that more than is desirable.”

The exclusion of DACA students was disappointing to other associations representing colleges and universities, including the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the American Association of Community Colleges.

“As a sector, community colleges are committed to serving each and every individual who aspires to benefit from their programs,” said David Baime, AACC's senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis.

The Q&A also said, as the institutions expected, that emergency grants could not be used for a number of purposes, including paying unpaid tuition owed by students.

In some respects the department provided more clarity for institutions. DeVos also announced that she’s making available the other half of the stimulus, another $6.2 billion institutions can use to defray their own costs. And she released an agreement institutions have to sign to get the money, describing where they’re allowed to spend those funds.

One key for institutions is that they will be able to dip into the money to reimburse themselves for what they’ve already spent to give refunds to students for room and board, and other services, like internet access, that were no longer available when campuses closed. Hartle said that would help deal with institutions’ immediate need for money.

The rules also include prohibitions on using the money for certain purposes, including marketing, recruiting students, increasing endowments and building sports facilities.

DeVos, in the instructions released Tuesday, urged colleges to use as much as much of the funds earmarked for institutions as possible for emergency grant aid for students -- especially for colleges that have “significant endowment or other resources,” according to the guidance.

"This pandemic has made clear every single education institution should make important investments to ensure learning continues when unexpected circumstances arise," DeVos said in a statement. "Accordingly, the additional funds made available today can be used to expand remote learning programs, build IT capacity and train faculty and staff to operate in a remote learning environment so that at any moment institutions can pivot quickly."

Under the stimulus package, money from both funds is apportioned to colleges and universities based on a formula weighted toward institutions with the most low-income Pell Grant recipients.

Institutions have been anxious to get the money. Indeed, just a week after the stimulus package was signed into law, associations representing higher ed institutions wrote DeVos to clamor for the money to be distributed quickly.

“I fear this funding will be for naught for many institutions unless the department can act very quickly to make these funds available,” Ted Mitchell, ACE's president, wrote on behalf of the associations.

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Financial peril prompting calls to close some public college campuses, but systems can often make smarter choices, experts say

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 00:00

The coronavirus outbreak has torpedoed the budgets of public and private colleges alike.

Revenue shortfalls, student fee refunds, possible declines in fall enrollment and unexpected cost increases have set the stage for a difficult financial future. Public college systems are facing all of that and another threat: impending cuts to state higher education funding.

It all means renewed debate over the controversial idea of closing public college campuses.

The Vermont State Colleges System, projecting a near-term operating deficit of up to $10 million this fiscal year, announced plans last week for a “substantial transformation” of its colleges that included closing several campuses. Days later, the board deferred a vote on the plan amid public backlash.

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education forecasts a $52 million loss, even after federal stimulus money is applied. The University of Alaska system projects a $35 to $40 million loss. The University of Maine system is looking at a $20 million short-term loss. Many states have announced, or will announce, budget cuts as a result of the coronavirus, and higher education funding is expected to take a big hit.

New Jersey has frozen higher education dollars. New York is expected to cut higher ed funding despite a proposal earlier this year by Governor Andrew Cuomo to boost state support. California hopes to make good on a $217.7 million increase proposed by Governor Gavin Newsom, but he recently called the January budget “no longer operable.”

Despite the hardship, public college systems are rejecting closure proposals and remain focused on collaboration, experts say.

The Pennsylvania state system struggled financially for years and has yet to reverse declining enrollments across the system. Dennis Jones, president emeritus of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, remembered proposals by the state Legislature years ago to close “a campus or two or three.”

“There are lawmakers in Pennsylvania that would love to close a campus or two just because they think that’s a way to save money,” he said.

Daniel Greenstein, system chancellor, is adamant about keeping all system campuses open.

“Politically it doesn’t make sense, and from a public policy standpoint it doesn’t make sense,” he said about closures.

Small campuses with fast-declining enrollments and that serve low-income students are most often threatened with closure, Greenstein said. In Pennsylvania, it’s the colleges in the rural parts of the state.

But closing those campuses does damage twofold, Greenstein continued. Any region with a closing campus would lose its largest employer and access to education for local students who need it.

“It is difficult for rural communities to source the rural and business leaders they need,” Greenstein said. “So they use universities as a way of training their teachers and their nurses and their Main Street businesspeople.”

But for a public college system hemorrhaging money, the quickest way to stop the bleeding is to lop off a campus, right?

“No,” Jones said. “Not in the short run, anyway.”

Many colleges have bond debt, meaning they still owe money to investors for buildings, residence halls and other projects.

Closing a campus means losing the opportunity to generate revenue to pay off that debt, Greenstein said.

“That just gets absorbed by the other universities in the system,” he said.

That said, Greenstein emphasized that just because a college remains open doesn’t mean it will continue with business as usual.

“When you say you’re not going to close an institution, that doesn’t mean it’s just going to continue as is,” Greenstein said. “It can’t. It’s bleeding cash.”

He suggested keeping successful programs where they are and moving less popular programs online, to be taught virtually by another system campus that executes them well. Systems can also consolidate services that are required across the board, like payroll, to save money.

The initiatives Greenstein mentioned relate to the idea of “systemness,” a term that Jason Lane and Rebecca Martin use often to describe public college systems working as one unit rather than as a conglomerate of independent colleges. Lane is the director of the Systems Center and dean of the School of Education at the State University of New York at Albany. Martin leads the National Association of System Heads.

“We’re seeing presidents of campuses, in many cases, talking weekly if not daily with system administration. Provosts are meeting with each other to talk about coordinated academic policies and programs,” Lane said. “There is no doubt there’s been an unprecedented level of coordination and systemness that has come out of this.”

But not all campuses are following such a model.

“Vermont treated this as a campus-by-campus problem,” Jones said, “instead of saying, ‘We need to provide access to education … how are we as a system going to do that?’”

The Vermont State College System's plan to overhaul its colleges includes closing Vermont Technical College's Randolph Center campus and Northern Vermont University and laying off 500 employees. After community pushback, the system Board of Trustees chair, J. Churchill Hindes, announced Sunday that a vote on the plan would be deferred by at least a week.

“I have listened to my colleagues on the board and want to give them time to consider the very significant decisions we have to make,” Hindes said in a press release. “But … delayed action increases the profound financial risks facing all four VSCS colleges and universities. Those risks grow daily. We simply do not have the funds to afford a protracted discussion and debate.”

The Vermont State Colleges System did not respond to a request for comment.

As to whether there will be more closure proposals like Vermont’s, Jones, of NCHEMS, said yes.

“The systems that have their act together won’t close them. They may repurpose them,” Jones said. “Those systems that are less able to behave as a system may in fact close some, because I think that we’re going to be in for at least a year or two of pretty tough economic times for higher education.”

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Students petition University System of Georgia for pass-fail grading, arguing it is an equity issue

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 00:00

Students at Georgia’s public colleges and universities are petitioning for a pass-fail grading policy at their institutions this semester, arguing it is a matter of equity given the starkly different living and working situations students find themselves in following the suspension of in-person classes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many colleges have moved to mandatory or optional pass-fail policies for the spring semester, but the University System of Georgia has resisted appeals for a pass-fail option, saying it trusts faculty to grade students effectively and that maintaining high academic standards matters.

“We have so many students who are struggling right now,” said Ciera Thomas, a sophomore at the University of Georgia and an organizer of USG Students 4 Grade Reform, a coalition representing students across the University System of Georgia’s 26 institutions, which collectively enroll more than 300,000 students. Thomas said coalition organizers have collected more than 2,000 testimonies of students describing the difficulties they're facing doing classwork remotely. The organizers say they've heard concerns, for example, from students living in rural areas with poor internet connectivity -- an estimated 1.6 million Georgia residents lack fast internet connections -- and from international students who are waking up in the middle of the night to view lectures remotely.

"We have heard from thousands of students and faculty who have been completing their schoolwork in fast food restaurant parking lots, waking up at 3:30 a.m. to attend lectures or returning to households affected by destabilizing forces like domestic violence or adverse mental health. We have heard from students who have been forced to break the state’s shelter-in-place order to complete their assignments due to a lack of internet access," Thomas said.

The move by many colleges to pass-fail options has helped assuage student anxiety in the mass transition to online learning. But it has also raised many still-unanswered questions about the implications for grade point average calculations for scholarships, graduate school applications and transferability of credits.

A spokesman for the University System of Georgia said Tuesday there has been no change in the system’s policy of maintaining letter grading, which was outlined in a March 30 statement. “We are confident our students will rise to the challenge, and the USG will do everything in its power to help them do so. We trust our faculty to teach and grade students effectively,” that statement said.

“In times of adversity, we should reach higher, not lower. Maintaining high academic standards is critical to the success of USG students now and in the future. Continuing letter grading for the final few weeks of the semester will allow faculty to assess the performance of students in the same manner as they always have,” the statement said.

Thomas said the system’s position is unfair.

“There are students who are struggling with so many things right now. They are rising to those challenges; they are reaching higher,” Thomas said. “For some of us that’s getting by day to day, whether that’s taking care of relatives or surviving in the midst of a global pandemic, we are rising, and we are trying, but we don’t think it’s fair to hold everyone to the same standards as they were held to before when this situation is wildly different than anything we’ve ever seen before.”

Thomas said USG Students 4 Grade Reform plans to submit a petition to the Board of Regents before the end of the month calling for a pass-fail grading option. Their action follows on other student petitions and actions by student governments at public colleges across the state. Student government presidents from 17 Georgia institutions sent a letter to the Georgia Board of Regents requesting a pass-fail option but were told there would be no change, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Law students at the University of Georgia and Georgia State University have petitioned for a mandatory pass-fail grading policy. Law.com, a trade publication for the legal profession, reported March 31 that at least 75 law schools nationally have moved to mandatory pass-fail grades for the semester, making Georgia State and UGA among a few outliers. ​

The petition from the Georgia law students argues that the "combination of catastrophe with the competitive structure of law school poses a severe risk of inequity." The petition argues that the use of letter grading allows some students to gain an advantage in class rank over other classmates who "disproportionately bear the impact of COVID-19" due to reasons such as "poor internet access, job loss, disruptive caregiving responsibilities, and the lack of a home environment conducive to uninterrupted study."

“In law school class rank actually matters, and it matters for your future employment prospects,” said Ross Harris, a third-year law student at the University of Georgia. Harris said COVID-19 has caused him to take on unexpected childcare duties for his 8-month-old child, whose daycare is closed.

Harris credits UGA's law school for adjusting the grading curve upward so the median grade the curve is built around is now higher. But he said a letter grading system, even on an adjusted curve, still compels students to compete against one another. In a normal context, competing with other law students for grades and class rank is fine, he said. But right now, "we're not on equal footing, and our grades are not going to be any reflection of merit whatsoever.”

"For someone to rise or fall in class rank during this semester is unacceptable," Harris said. "This is just not the time we should be using academic performance to determine someone’s job prospects."

​A spokeswoman for the law school at Georgia State declined to comment, referring a reporter to the state university system's March 30 statement.

Greg Trevor, a spokesman for the University of Georgia, said the university supports the system's decision to maintain the current grading system for all classes. Trevor also noted the decision by law school faculty to adjust the grading curve upward for this term.

"We trust our faculty to assess the performance of their students, as they always have, on work performed before and after our temporary closure," Trevor said.

"The university and the School of Law are focused on the continuity of instruction and completing the current semester," he said, adding that the school has dedicated $500,000 to support employment initiatives and assist with preparation for bar exams. "Together, we are committed to law student success and to assisting them during this unprecedented time."

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April 22 Roundup: Free tuition and deferrals, emergency aid, and animals for your Zoom calls

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 00:00

Well, yesterday was a slow news day, wasn't it?

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that, if a second wave of COVID-19 hits next winter, the situation will be even worse. President Trump is suspending immigration, which, he says, will help the economy recover. Home sales are beginning to drop.

All we can really do is hunker down and find ways we can help.

One way is by donating to good causes. For example, this animal sanctuary in Colorado. In exchange, you get to have one of their animals make a guest appearance on a videoconference of your choice.

To help you smile a little before the rest of the (mostly bad) news, here are a few more palate cleansers.

A new website will only survive if you post on it. If no one posts to this site for 24 hours, it will self-destruct. Is it a metaphor for something? A commentary on the human psyche? Who knows.

The Newshouse, a student publication out of Syracuse University, has created Fermata, a publication looking specifically at arts and culture during coronavirus. It's an interesting look at how the industry, which really relies on people coming together, is adapting.

To the news!

California State University at Fullerton is one of the first institutions to officially announce its fall semester will, most likely, be online.

The Education Department has made the $6.2 billion earmarked by Congress available to help institutions' operations. It's also released the requirements for the funds.

As Congress discusses possible additional stimulus packages, Democratic senators are saying for-profit institutions shouldn't get any more funding.

Higher ed groups are asking Congress to ensure that college students won't have to pay taxes on aid they receive through the CARES Act.

More closures are coming. Franklin University, an institution in Ohio, is closing down its Urbana branch campus this year.

Some institutions are taking an entirely different approach. Franciscan University, also in Ohio, is promising to cover tuition costs for incoming full-time freshmen. The aid will be applied after grants and scholarships and will cover the fall 2020 semester.

Davidson College presents a third way forward. Its students in the fall will have the option to defer tuition payments until August 2021.

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

Several organizations representing colleges and universities are telling Congress to address immediate needs of student loan borrowers first -- like suspending payments -- before considering debt cancellation, Kery Murakami reports.

COVID-19 might be hurting women's research productivity, as they take the brunt of domestic and emotional labor, Colleen Flaherty writes.

I wrote about the denial of state waiver requests for the federal food assistance program, which is notoriously difficult for students to navigate.

News From Elsewhere

There's talk, and plans, in some states to resume normal life sooner rather than later. But we may be far from the end of this, as shown in Singapore, where coronavirus cases have doubled in the past few days even after the country seemingly did everything right, The New York Times reports.

Education Dive has a story on the best way institutions can get funding to students. The big takeaway: no red tape.

An unanticipated side effect of the pandemic seems to be trouble concentrating -- particularly on reading, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

Percolating Thoughts

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

Screenagers has an article on "digital bingeing" and what it can do to people.

The president emerita of Vassar College implores colleges to use what's happening as an opportunity to raise college attainment rates.

The Century Foundation took a look at the global impacts of the coronavirus on higher education.

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

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

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