May 11, 2020

Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education

Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education

George Washington, Northwestern Address Budget Shortfalls

May 11, 4:20 p.m. George Washington University, in Washington. D.C., is projecting losses related to the coronavirus pandemic ranging from $100 million to $300 million over the upcoming fiscal year that starts July 1, the university announced Monday. The projected losses come on top of an estimated $25 million loss for the current fiscal year.

The chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, Grace Speights, said it would not be prudent to use funds from GW’s endowment, valued at $1.78 billion in 2019, to offset the losses, according to an article in the university publication GW Today. Thomas J. LeBlanc, the university’s president, said administrators are considering options for reducing expenses including pay or benefit reductions, early retirement options, furloughs, layoffs, reorganizations, consolidations and reductions in travel, training, and other expenses.

“The reality is, because a significant share of our budget is compensation, we will need to make personnel decisions that affect all of us,” LeBlanc said in a universitywide message.

Another wealthy university, Northwestern University, in Chicago, which as of 2019 had an $11.1 billion endowment, said Monday that it was projecting a roughly $90 million shortfall for the current fiscal year. Northwestern said it would temporarily increase the rate at which it draws from the endowment. The university also said it would furlough 250 staff members “who are unable to substantially perform their duties remotely or who support areas with significantly reduced workloads in the wake of the pandemic,” suspend contributions to faculty and staff members’ retirement accounts, and enact pay cuts for senior leaders.

— Elizabeth Redden

Community Colleges Got Disproportionately Less in CARES Act

May 11, 3:41 p.m. The CARES Act shortchanged two-year public colleges because of the way Congress structured higher education funding in the stimulus package, according to a study by the Center for American Progress.

The study, which recommended that Congress make changes if it sends more aid to colleges and universities in another stimulus package, noted that the CARES Act funding was based on the number of full-time-equivalent students colleges enroll, which worked against those with large numbers of part-time students.

As a result, while community colleges educate almost 40 percent of students, they only received about 27 percent of the CARES Act funds, the study found. Had the package based funding on the total number of students, public colleges of two years or fewer would have received 39 percent of the funding.

In addition, the study by Ben Miller, the group’s vice president of postsecondary education, found that private for-profit colleges received $1.1 billion in aid. Saying that the package didn’t provide enough help for public colleges, Miller argued that for-profits in a future package should only receive aid that goes to students through emergency grants. That would have increased the money public colleges got from the CARES Act by 2.2 percent, while excluding funding for for-profits entirely would have increased funding for publics by 10 percent, the study said.

— Kery Murakami

McGill Says Fall Courses Will Be Mostly Remote

May 11, 1:25 p.m. McGill University in Montreal announced today that courses in the fall semester will be mostly online.

“McGill’s Fall semester will start as scheduled, with the University committed to delivering the exciting, high quality, equitable educational experience for which McGill is known,” the university said in the announcement. “To allow McGill students to begin, or continue, their academic path no matter where they are, Fall 2020 courses will be offered primarily through remote delivery platforms.”

The institution in Canada’s Quebec province also said it is committed to providing extracurricular activities virtually. “The Fall 2020 semester will give newly admitted and returning McGill undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to connect with extraordinary classmates, learn from world-renowned experts, and exchange with other curious and brilliant minds from all around the world,” the university announced. Officials will be monitoring the public health situation and will look at possibilities for on-campus student life as restrictions are lifted.

— Lilah Burke

UVA to Announce Fall Plans in June

May 11, 10:45 a.m. Jim Ryan, the University of Virginia’s president, said Sunday that the university will make an announcement about its fall plans in mid-June.

“So, we are in the midst of trying to figure out how we can have as many students back on grounds in the fall and in classrooms and to do that safely,” Ryan said, according to a transcript of an interview on CBS News’ Face the Nation. “And we’re working night and day to figure out exactly how to do that, and we’ll make an announcement about the fall in mid-June. We’re trying to push back as far as we can so we’ll have the best information when we make the decision, but we also realize that people need to be able to make plans.”

Ryan said the university would need to test students for COVID-19 when they first arrive on campus in order to reopen for in-person instruction. UVA also would need to test faculty and staff members before students arrive, Ryan said. And the university would need to isolate students who have been exposed, as well as to have the ability to do contract tracing.

“And then we’re also going to need to enact a bunch of social distancing protocols in terms of how far away students need to be from each other in the classroom or in dining halls,” Ryan said. “As you can imagine, it’s a complicated task. College campuses are a difficult and challenging place for contagious viruses.”

When asked about the upcoming seasons for intercollegiate athletics, including football, Ryan said the university is taking it day by day. He said,

Obviously, we need to have students back on grounds before football can begin. But our athletic director, Carla Williams, and our head football coach, Bronco Mendenhall, are committed first and foremost to the safety and well-being of their players, our student athletes. And they’ll begin practice when the medical experts tell them that it’s safe to do so. Our hope, obviously, is that there’s a football season this fall. I don’t imagine it will look like normal football seasons, just like I don’t imagine even if we have all students back on grounds, it will look like a normal semester. It will not be a normal semester next fall, regardless of which path we follow.

— Paul Fain

Senator Alexander: Testing Levels Inadequate to Open College Campuses

May 11, 9:34 a.m. Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate’s education committee, on Sunday praised coronavirus testing in the U.S., citing Johns Hopkins University research that eight million tests have conducted, more per capita even than South Korea.

But Alexander said current testing capacity remains inadequate for reopening large college and university campuses for in-person instruction.

“It’s enough to do what we need to do today to reopen, for example, but it’s not enough when 35,000 kids and faculty show up at the University of Tennessee campus in August,” Alexander said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions plans to hold a hearing with Trump administration health experts on safely reopening schools and workplaces. Two of the four scheduled witnesses are self-quarantining amid worries about White House officials who have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days. Those witnesses will testify via videoconference, the committee said.

“The hearing is an opportunity for senators to hear an update from officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about what federal, state and local governments are doing to help Americans go back to work and back to school as rapidly and safely as possible,” according to a statement from the committee.

— Paul Fain

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