May 6, 2020

Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education

Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education


Steep Decline in FAFSA Renewals

May 5, 10:20 a.m. New federal data show a substantial drop in renewals of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by returning college students, according to an analysis from the National College Attainment Network. 

Almost 250,000 fewer returning students from the lowest-income backgrounds have renewed their FAFSA for the 2020-21 cycle, NCAN said, and FAFSA renewals were down nearly 5 percent overall (4.7 percent) compared to last year — a decline of more than 350,000 students.

The drop in renewals during this aid cycle has more than doubled since the end of Feb., when total completions were 2.3 percent fewer than on the same date last year, according to the group, which has created a dashboard to view the FAFSA renewal data.

The decrease is even steeper among students from low-income backgrounds, the analysis found. Through April 15, the total number of renewals from students with annual family incomes of less than $25,000 was down by more than 8 percent, compared to a 4 percent decline for those with family incomes of $25,000-$50,000 and just 1 percent with incomes of more than $50,000.

The pandemic and conversion by colleges and universities to online instruction appears to have accelerated declines in FAFSA renewals. NCAN said the downward trend “is deeply troubling” and suggests students are uncertain about continuing their postsecondary educations.

“FAFSA completion is a strong indicator of postsecondary enrollment, so we should carefully monitor FAFSA renewal as a predictor of emerging fall enrollment trends,” Kim Cook, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education

— Paul Fain


Ohio to Cut Public College Funding by $110 Million Over 2 Months

May 5, 3:55 p.m. Mike DeWine, Ohio’s Republican governor, announced that the state will cut its spending by $775 million over the next two months, with a $110 million reduction for the state’s public colleges and universities.

The state’s revenues have taken a “dramatic turn” with a $1 billion swing downward during the last two months, DeWine said on Twitter. And projected revenues will continue to fall below the planned budget in coming months.

Ohio will not draw from its rainy-day fund to cover the deficit, DeWine said. “Simply stated, we are going to need the rainy day fund for next year, and possibly the next,” he said.

DeWine wrote,

Decisions like this are extremely difficult, but are part of my responsibility, as your governor, to make. While we do not know what the coming months will hold, we do know that COVID-19 is here with us and will be here for quite some time. Nevertheless, it does not exempt us from balancing our budget, which we are legally obligated to do. Making difficult budget cut decisions now will help us down the road and will help us while we continue our discussions for the next fiscal year.

— Paul Fain


Teachers’ Unions and Other Groups Call for $500 Billion in Aid for States

May 5, 3:43 p.m. More than 70 groups, including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the progressive Center for American Progress, are calling on Congress to approve $500 billion in aid to state governments as part of the next stimulus package. Increasing aid to states is considered important to higher education groups to lessen state cuts to colleges and universities.

But with 35 percent of states’ spending now going to K-12 and 15 percent to higher education, the groups in a letter to congressional leaders called for requiring states to spend that same proportion of the proposed federal stimulus funds on education. The requirement is aimed at preventing a repeat of the state cuts to education that occurred during the last recession.

The letter from the groups, which also included the Education Trust and Education Reform Now, comes as Congress works on crafting another pandemic relief package. House and Senate Democrats have said they want any package to include aid to states, which are facing budget shortfalls from added costs and declining revenue. Democrats, though, haven’t said whether any of the aid should go to education.

“We also know that our economy cannot recover if we can’t reopen our schools, and we cannot properly reopen schools if funding is slashed and students don’t have what they need to be safe, learn and succeed. Schools across the country are headed for a funding cliff that we know will exist as local and state revenues dry up,” Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, which represents three million educators from preschool to graduate programs, said in a news release.

Separately from the letter, the State Higher Education Executive Officers association also released a new study, which found that even after seven years of moderate increases in higher education spending, only seven states have fully recovered from funding declines during the last recession. Nationally, education appropriations remained 8.7 percent below what they were in 2008, before the last recession, the report found.

— Kery Murakami


Student Debt Cancellation Proposed for Front-Line Medical Workers

May 5, 2:43 p.m. A bill introduced by Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, would forgive the student debt of a wide range of medical workers who are treating COVID-19 patients, from doctors and nurses to lab technicians and medical students.

Maloney, in a call with reporters, said she supports broader proposals to cancel the student debt of more borrowers. “But we’re not looking at the bigger issue right now,” she said. Instead, at a time when House Democrats are working on their proposal for the next coronavirus relief package, Maloney said she was focusing on canceling the debt for at least the medical workers. “I think there’s a shot,” she said. “We may be able to pass this piece of it now.”

Medical workers who are putting their lives in danger deserve the relief, she said. “It’s the least we could do.”

Maloney, though, said she hasn’t yet gotten a commitment from House leaders to include the idea in the Democratic proposal. She said the bill would have no limit on the amount of debt canceled.

Eileen Sullivan-Marx, dean of the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and president of the American Academy of Nursing, said past students have told her student loan forgiveness would be a relief because they would not pass on their debt to their families should they die after contracting the virus.

— Kery Murakami


Campaign by New Jersey Colleges to Recruit In-State Students

May 5, 2:05 p.m. The presidents of 10 public four-year colleges in New Jersey have launched an initiative asking New Jersey students to attend colleges in their home state.

The New Jersey Scholar Corps Program guarantees that students who attended colleges out of state can transfer credits to in-state institutions if they meet grade requirements. It also guarantees a speedy review of applications and campus housing, depending on the availability at the time the student submits an application.

The program also includes volunteer opportunities to help students build their professional networks.

About 120,000 New Jersey residents attend colleges in other states.

“New Jersey needs your energy, your intelligence and your commitment,” the presidents wrote in a joint statement. “This is an unprecedented period in our history, a time that calls for everyday heroes to show up and give back. Think of the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. Think of those natural disasters and crises when young people turned out to fight for what’s right, to push us toward a hopeful future.”

— Madeline St. Amour


Georgia Reaffirms: No Pass/Fail Grading

May 5, 1:15 p.m. The University of Georgia system has reaffirmed it will not be moving to pass/fail grading, despite petitions from students and resolutions from student governments urging the move, according to USA Today. The stance makes the system an outlier among colleges, of which many have at the very least expanded their pass/fail options.

— Lilah Burke


University of Akron to Cut Six Colleges

May 5, 1:00 p.m. University of Akron president Gary Miller announced that the university will be cutting six of its 11 academic colleges, Cleveland.com reported. He did not specify which will remain but said an announcement will be made in the coming days.

The University of Akron has colleges devoted to arts and sciences, applied science and technology, business administration, engineering, health professions, polymer science and engineering, graduate studies, law, and education, along with an honors college and the Wayne College campus.

Miller has also signaled cuts to athletics, along with pay cuts and a hiring freeze. University leadership has said revenue has decreased by about $65 million.

— Lilah Burke


Employers Cutting Back on Summer Internships, Poll Shows

May 5, 10:10 a.m. Summer internships are being hit harder than full-time job offers for new graduates amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

More than one in five employers, 22 percent, said they were revoking offers to interns for the summer, according to NACE’s April Coronavirus Quick Poll. In comparison, only 4.4 percent of employers that participated in the survey said they’d pulled offers from new college graduates who were recruited prior to the pandemic for post-graduation full-time positions.

“With the uncertainty that continues to surround the economy and the job market during this pandemic, employers are cutting budgets, which may result in internship programs being scaled back or temporarily suspended,” Shawn VanDerziel, NACE’s executive director, said in a news release. “Fortunately, the more common response we are seeing is that many employers are moving their summer internship program to the virtual space or reducing the length of internships by delaying their start date.”

Almost half of surveyed employers, 46 percent, said they were shifting internships to virtual programs. That’s up from 36 percent at the beginning of April.

Employers also indicated they’re shortening internship lengths at a greater clip — 41 percent said so in the new survey, versus 35 percent at the start of April.

Survey participants numbered 331 of NACE’s employer members, plus 108 nonmember companies. Respondents were able to return to the survey every week throughout April and change answers to reflect changes in their own office’s policies, a design NACE said was intended to provide an accurate real-time snapshot.

A third poll launched yesterday will run through the end of May and cover fall 2020.

— Rick Seltzer


SNAP for Students in Career Programs

May 5, 10:08 a.m. Michigan has found a way to more easily provide food assistance benefits to college students.

It’s historically difficult for college students to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits. Part-time students are required to work at least 20 hours per week in addition to attending college.

Michigan on Tuesday announced a new rule that removes that requirement for students enrolled in career and technical education programs, according to the Detroit Free Press. Students who meet SNAP income requirements and are enrolled at least half-time in an occupational program that fall under Perkins V can now receive benefits, effective immediately.

Funding for the program will go to 28 community colleges, three public universities and one tribal college, according to the Free Press.

Several states asked the federal government to waive student eligibility requirements for SNAP in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but the request was denied.

— Madeline St. Amour


Dems Propose Canceling Corinthian and ITT Student Debt in Next Stimulus

May 4, 4:10 p.m. Top Democratic lawmakers said they will propose forgiving the loans of Corinthian and ITT Tech student loan borrowers, who have claimed they were misled by their institutions, as part of the next coronavirus relief package.

Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown, Dick Durbin and Elizabeth Warren said they will introduce a bill requiring the loans be discharged within 30 days of Congress enacting the next package. Democratic Representatives Mark Takano and Pramila Jayapal said they will propose the same measure in the House. Also included in the bill are borrowers who were covered by various actions by state attorney generals to discharge loans of defrauded borrowers.

Many of the borrowers are among the thousands who have been waiting years for the Education Department to process borrower-defense claims, a process in which the department cancels the loans of those who have been defrauded by their institutions.

Many, but not all, of those who would get relief under the bill were covered by U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos’s agreement in April to make a decision on all pending cases within 18 months. DeVos made the agreement to settle a federal lawsuit brought by Harvard University’s Project on Predatory Student Lending.

Republican lawmakers have opposed previous attempts to include student loan forgiveness in previous stimulus packages.

“Americans all across the country are facing financial hardships as they work to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Brown, the top Democrat on the Senate banking committee, said in a statement. “But for students defrauded by shady for-profit colleges, these challenges are compacted by the Department of Education’s refusal to provide the loan relief to which they’re entitled. We have to act to ensure these defrauded student loan borrowers, many of whom are veterans and have been saddled with mountains of debt and worthless degrees or credits, can quickly get the relief they need.”

May 4, 2020, 3:30 p.m. A small private college in Wisconsin is closing at the end of the summer because of several factors, including the coronavirus pandemic.

Holy Family College, located in Manitowoc, about 80 miles north of Milwaukee, will end operations at the end of its summer term. It will close by Aug. 29, it announced today.

The college enrolled 346 undergraduates and 98 graduate students as of fall 2018, according to federal data. That’s little changed from 357 undergraduates and 72 graduate students the college reported enrolling as of fall 2016.

The decision to close the college, which is sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, comes after an in-depth analysis of its financial position, leaders said. They pointed to enrollment and fundraising issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone at the College has been working hard to achieve enrollment growth and increased fundraising, especially College President Dr. Robert Callahan,” said Sister Natalie Binversie, community director of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc, in a statement. “Under his leadership, good progress was made in addressing several years of earlier negative fiscal performance, and overall, he did a great job. However, the tough challenges were made even tougher with the COVID-19 outbreak, and we collectively made this difficult decision.”

The current 2020 class will be the college’s last. Leaders plan to work with other students to help them transfer elsewhere.

Holy Family College will hold a limited number of summer-term classes that were already scheduled.

Layoffs are set to begin June 13, with another round June 30 before all positions are eliminated Aug. 29. Full-time faculty positions are slated to terminate Aug. 13, with the exception of those teaching summer-term classes.

— Rick Seltzer


Community Colleges Get Smaller Shares of Emergency Grants

May 4, 1:54 p.m. Community colleges are getting disproportionately less than other types of institutions in CARES Act emergency grants to help students deal with financial hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic, finds a new report by the Century Foundation.

On average, colleges and universities nationally are getting $270 per student in federal funding for the grants. But community colleges, which enroll the most undergraduates of any sector and often enroll students with the greatest financial and educational needs, are receiving an average of $179 per student, the study found.

In comparison, nonprofit, four-year institutions are receiving an average of $286 per student; public four-year institutions are getting $335 per student and for-profits are getting $420 per student.

Even among community colleges, some are receiving smaller shares. For example, Indiana’s community college system is receiving an average of $112 per student, even though 38 percent of its students live in poverty.

Congress was right to prioritize the funding based on the number of low-income Pell Grant recipients at institutions, the report found. But not all high-need students obtain the Pell Grant, often due to noncompletion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. While full-time students have greater tuition than part-time students, the study said, all types of students need housing, food, technology and health care.

— Kery Murakami


Princeton to Wait Until July to Decide on Reopening for Undergraduates

May 4, 1:54 p.m. Chris Eisgruber, Princeton University’s president, said in a letter Monday that the university will wait until early July before deciding whether undergraduate teaching will be online or residential in the fall.

The university is “optimistic” about being able to safely reopen its laboratories, libraries and other facilities, Eisgruber said in his message to the Princeton community. He also said the university anticipates resuming on-campus graduate advising and instruction this summer and fall. But undergraduate education presents more “vexing questions,” according to Eisgruber.

On the one hand, everyone at this university values in-person academic engagement and the co-curricular and extracurricular experiences that accompany it. We want to restore residential education as soon as we safely can. On the other hand, the interpersonal engagement that animates undergraduate life makes social distancing difficult. That is partly because undergraduates live in close proximity to one another, but even more fundamentally because they mix constantly and by design in their academic, extracurricular and social lives.

The letter cited the many uncertainties about the pandemic, including whether quick and accurate testing will be available for the fall, or how many people on campus and the surrounding community have been exposed to the virus and might be immune. Eisgruber wrote,

We want our decision to be as fully informed as possible. We will undoubtedly learn more about the course of the pandemic, and about the techniques available to combat it, over the next two months. For that reason, Princeton will wait until early July before deciding whether our undergraduate teaching program will be online or residential in the fall term. I appreciate that this uncertainty can itself add to the distress of this pandemic, but I am convinced that it is the most responsible way for Princeton to proceed.

— Paul Fain


Trump Wants Campuses to Reopen in Sept.

May 4, 11:25 a.m. President Trump, in a Fox News virtual town hall Sunday night, said he wants K-12 schools and universities to reopen in September.

“I want them to go back. We have to have our country back. We can’t do this forever,” Trump said in response to questions from a Virginia algebra teacher and a Minneapolis middle school student.

Trump also cited recent comments by Purdue University president Mitch Daniels, who described plans for reopening the campus in the fall. Though Daniels, in a letter to the university, said the plans were preliminary, Trump said, “He wants to go back. Purdue. Big school. Fantastic. They’re going back. We have to go back. We have to go back.”

However, Trump expressed concern for older instructors. “Students are going to be fine,” he said, though they might have to wear masks and practice social distancing. But, he said, “If you have a teacher who’s 65 or 70 years old and they have diabetes, they’re going to have to sit it out for a while.”

— Kery Murakami​


Looking to the Past to Predict Community College Enrollments

May 4, 11:15 a.m. Higher education researchers looked to the past to try to predict what the future could look like for two-year institutions.

Davis Jenkins and John Fink, both from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, wrote a blog post about how the colleges fared in the Great Recession of 2008.

Using federal data, they found that people 25 and over flocked to community colleges during the last recession and returned to the workforce when the economy improved. Unemployment rates have already surpassed those of the last downturn, but community colleges have yet to receive funding to train adults like they did in 2009 with the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program.

Adult enrollment at community colleges has also reached its lowest level in two decades, according to Fink and Jenkins. While the labor market was strong, adults without college training often worked in low-wage jobs.

“It has been increasingly difficult for such individuals to find the time and resources needed to attend college — and that was before COVID,” they wrote. “These challenges are likely to persist if not intensify in the wake of COVID, raising questions as to whether adult students will come rushing back to community colleges.”

Traditional college students were more likely to enroll at community colleges at the start of the last recession, but that number has since declined, the researchers found. This group’s enrollment at four-year public institutions has consistently increased for decades.

However, coronavirus is affecting much more than the economy — it’s affecting how education is delivered. The researchers note that some speculate students will take courses closer to home this fall, likely at community colleges.

The researchers also predict that interest in dual enrollment programs for high schoolers will increase due to COVID-19.

— Madeline St. Amour


Stanford Considering Classes in Tents

May 3, 1:00 p.m. Stanford University is discussing the possibility of holding classes in outdoor tents come the fall, Mercury News reported. The option is not a formal proposal or plan, a spokesperson said, but one of many possibilities being discussed.

— Lilah Burke


Western Michigan Lays Off 240 Union Employees

May 3, 12:50 p.m. Western Michigan University will lay off 240 employees and cut pay for others to recoup losses from the pandemic, MLive.com has reported. The 240 employees laid off are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents workers in dining, facilities and other campus services. All other benefits-eligible, nonbargaining staff will have pay reduced by 2.25 percent. The university has lost more than $45 million in the coronavirus pandemic so far, officials say.

Lilah Burke


Ohio University Leaders Take Pay Cut

May 3, 12:45 p.m. Ohio University’s president and provost will both be taking 15 percent pay cuts and no bonus this year, an equivalent to a 39-day furlough, the Athens Messenger has reported. President M. Duane Nellis told the community that the cuts, combined with other cost-saving measures, would not be enough to close a budget gap. Nellis makes $489,000 annually, while the provost, Elizabeth Sayrs, is paid $378,750.

There are two employees who make more than Nellis, coaches for the men’s basketball and football teams, who both make over $520,000. There have been minimal cuts to the university’s athletic budget, though the academic colleges were asked to cut $30 million through faculty layoffs.

— Lilah Burke


UC President Says Campuses Need Testing and Contact Tracing to Reopen

May 3, 12:30 p.m. University of California president Janet Napolitano has said that the system’s campuses will offer classes in the fall, but whether those offerings will be online, in person or somewhere in between is yet to be seen.

“If they’re going to reopen at all, they’re going to need to have a testing plan, a contact tracing plan, a quarantine plan, things of that sort,” Napolitano told CNBC.

— Lilah Burke


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