Live Updates: Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education

CDC Issues New Guidance for Colleges

May 20, 12:41 p.m. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance Tuesday for colleges on slowing the spread of coronavirus.

The guidance describes behaviors colleges can promote to reduce spread and outlines steps they should take to isolate and transport sick individuals. It also includes suggestions for maintaining healthier campus environments by promoting social distancing, ensuring proper operation of ventilation and water systems, increasing cleaning and disinfection practices, closing or staggering use of communal spaces, and changing food services protocols. It recommends encouraging telework “for as many faculty and staff as possible” and putting in place protections for staff, faculty and students at higher risk of severe illness due to age or underlying medical conditions.

The guidance notes that institutions of higher education “vary considerably in geographic location, size, and structure. As such, IHE officials can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials, whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the IHE and local community. Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community.”

–Elizabeth Redden

N.J. College Leaders Want Liability Protection for Fall

May 20, 10:18 a.m. Several leaders of colleges in New Jersey have asked the state for immunity from lawsuits as they consider reopening for in-person instruction in the fall, NJ.com reported. Those requests, made by higher education officials during a New Jersey Senate committee hearing yesterday on the impact of COVID-19 on colleges, echo requests made by some college and university leaders during a call last week with Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Presidents in the call with Pence said they needed assurances their institutions wouldn't be sued if students or employees got sick on campus, which is likely.

“They were mostly in listening mode, wanting to hear what the federal government could do to be helpful,” said University of Texas at El Paso president Heather Wilson, who was on the call. One way the government can help, said Wilson, a former Republican congresswoman from New Mexico and secretary of the Air Force, “is to have some kind of liability protection.”

The New Jersey higher education officials made similar comments during the hearing yesterday. The threat of costly lawsuits is an impediment to colleges reopening, said Eugene Lepore, executive director of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities, according to NJ.com.

Gregory Dell'Omo, president of Rider University, made a similar point in a written comment to the lawmakers, according to the news outlet.

“We find ourselves seriously exposed by events that are out of our control,” Dell’Omo wrote. “The financial impact from these kinds of lawsuits will seriously jeopardize the financial solvency of many colleges and universities in New Jersey.”

— Paul Fain

Washington AG Challenges DeVos on Emergency Aid Interpretation

May 20, 9:30 a.m. Bob Ferguson, attorney general for Washington State, has challenged an April 21 U.S. Department of Education decision to exclude undocumented and hundreds of thousands of other college students from $6 billion in emergency aid grants included in the federal CARES Act stimulus. The new lawsuit's filing comes a week after the California community college system and its chancellor, Eloy Ortiz Oakley, filed a similar legal challenge to the emergency aid determination by the department and Betsy DeVos, the U.S. education secretary.

DeVos has faced criticism for her interpretation that the congressional emergency aid package was limited to students who currently qualify for federal student aid.

“The pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption for all of Washington’s students without regard for the arbitrary, harmful lines the Department of Education has drawn,” Jay Inslee, Washington's Democratic governor, said in a statement. “Congress intended this aid to be distributed to all students struggling to cope with the COVID-19 emergency, not only those Betsy DeVos deems eligible for assistance. All higher education students in Washington state deserve to be part of our recovery.”

Ferguson's lawsuit asserts that the department’s decision is unlawful and a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, as well as Article I of the U.S. Constitution, which grants “power of the purse” exclusively to Congress. The Washington AG also is filing for a preliminary injunction to ask a judge to block the department's restriction on the grants.

— Paul Fain

More Bad News on Women's Research Productivity

May 19, 6:00 p.m. Another analysis documents productivity declines among women during COVID-19. This one, published in Nature Index, looks at submissions to 11 preprint repositories (indicative of overall research activity) and three platforms for registered reports (indicative of new projects). Over all, the authors found that women submitted fewer articles in March and April 2020 compared to the preceding two months and to March and April 2019. The researchers, like others in this area, attribute the sudden drop-offs to women's disproportionate caring loads at home during social distancing.

The biggest drops were observed in EarthArXiv, medRxiv, SocArXiv and among working papers published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. In arXiv and bioRxiv, female authorship had been increasing in January and February 2020 but then dropped as COVID-19 spread to match rates in earlier years.

Women in first-author positions on papers appear to have experienced larger productivity declines than their last-author counterparts. This is particularly worrisome, the authors suggest, because the norm across these disciplines is to assign first authorship to a more junior scholar, meaning the COVID-19 pandemic “may disproportionately affect early career researchers, with negative consequences” for their career trajectories.

Female first-author submissions to medRxiv, a medical preprint site, dropped from 36 percent in December to 20 percent in April, for instance. This has implications for public health, the paper said, in that much of the current medical research is on COVID-19, and if “women and other minorities are absent,” it may “alter the emphasis on aspects of the virus that are particularly important for certain populations.”

— Colleen Flaherty

Evaluating the Transition to Remote Learning with DIY Survey Kit

May 19, 5:30 p.m. Educause, a membership organization for higher ed IT professionals, has published a DIY survey kit to help institutions evaluate student and faculty experiences of remote learning in the spring term.

The kit includes sample surveys institutions may customize. Institutions are encouraged to share their results with Educause, but this is not a requirement.

“As the dust settles on a spring semester of rapid transition to remote modes of teaching and learning, institutions will need to take stock of their successes and challenges and begin preparing for improvements and adjustments to remote experiences in subsequent academic terms,” Educause’s Center for Analysis and Research said in a blog post.

“Short online surveys of students and faculty can serve as the beginning of a conversation with end users and provide indicators of where institutions should focus.”

— Lindsay McKenzie

No Face-to-Face Lectures at the University of Cambridge Until Summer 2021

May 19, 5:00 p.m. The University of Cambridge will not hold face-to-face courses throughout the 2020-21 academic year, BBC News reported. The selective British university will offer online courses and, possibly, smaller in-person "teaching groups" if they meet social distancing requirements.

The University of Manchester recently made a similar move, the BBC said, announcing that its lectures would be online-only for the next term.

Cambridge said it will review the decision if advice on social distancing changes.

"The university is constantly adapting to changing advice as it emerges during this pandemic," Cambridge said in a statement, according to the BBC. "Given that it is likely that social distancing will continue to be required, the university has decided there will be no face-to-face lectures during the next academic year."

— Paul Fain

National Guard Members Could Miss Out on GI Bill Benefits

May 19, 12:40 p.m. More than 40,000 National Guard members who are working on COVID-19 testing and contact tracing for states face a possible end to their deployments on June 24, which is one day before many would become eligible for the GI Bill and other federal benefits, Politico reported.

The news outlet obtained an audio version of a Trump administration call with various federal agencies in which an official acknowledged that the possible “hard stop” to the National Guard members’ deployment would fall one day short of a 90-day threshold for qualifying for early retirement and Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

“We’re not there yet on the determination,” a spokesman for the National Guard told Politico. “Nobody can say where we’ll need to be more than a month down the road.”

Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit advocacy group, yesterday released a report saying that college students who are veterans of the U.S. military could be disproportionately denied emergency aid grants from the CARES Act federal stimulus.

— Paul Fain

Fall Plans Emerging for Ivy Tech, Calif. Community Colleges

May 19, 10:55 a.m. Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana's statewide two-year system, has announced its plans to resume in-person instruction for the fall semester, beginning on Aug. 24. But the system also will offer virtual and online course options to students.

Meanwhile, Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of California's community college system, endorsed the move by many of the system's 115 colleges to announce that they will be fully online in the fall, reported CalMatters, a nonprofit news site.

“As we transition to the fall, many of our colleges have already announced that they’re going fully online in the fall,” Oakley said during remarks to the Board of Governors for the system, which enrolls more than two million students. “I encourage them to continue to do so. I fully believe that that will be the most relevant way for us to continue to reach our students and to do it in a way that commits to maintaining equity for our students.”

The California State University system last week said it was planning to be mostly online-only in the fall.

The Indiana community college system said its summer semester will be virtual and online, like its spring term. Fall courses, however, will be offered in person or online, with hybrid options. The system said it has "built out a robust schedule of classes that will allow students maximum flexibility including both 8- and 16-week terms," according to a statement.

"Ivy Tech is taking all of the necessary steps to ensure a deep cleaning of all buildings takes place prior to the start of classes and ongoing," the statement said. "Preventive protocols to reduce risk of transmission will also be implemented across campuses. Further details will be shared with students, faculty and staff leading up to campuses reopening in August.​​​​​​​"

— Paul Fain

Researchers in Florida Worry About Access to State Data on Pandemic

May 19, 9:39 a.m. The architect and manager of Florida's COVID-19 data dashboard was removed from her post last week, and researchers at several universities in the state told Florida Today that they are concerned about the state limiting access to data about the pandemic.

Rebekah Jones, a geographer who received her Ph.D. from Florida State University, is a geographic information system manager for the state Department of Health’s Division of Disease Control and Health Protection. The dashboard she helped create was widely praised for its publicly available data, including by Dr. Deborah Birx, a leader of the White House coronavirus task force. But Jones was removed from her role with the dashboard on Friday. The newspaper reported that she in an email expressed worries about data access going forward, including "what data they are now restricting."

In recent weeks, the site had crashed and access to its data had become more difficult, according to the newspaper.

Jones's concerns were shared by several university researchers contacted by Florida Today, including professors at the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida and Stetson University.

"We would not accept this lack of transparency for any other natural disaster, so why are we willing to accept it here?" Jennifer Larsen, a researcher at the University of Central Florida's LabX, told the newspaper. "It's all of us being denied access to what we need to know to be safe."

— Paul Fain

President: Colleges Are Deluding Themselves About Fall Opening

May 18, 4:05 p.m. Michael Sorrell, who as president of Paul Quinn College has earned a reputation for speaking his mind, delivered a message Friday that many of his colleagues might not want to hear: colleges and universities “do not yet have the ability to bring students and staff back to campus while keeping them safe and healthy,” and planning to do so “constitutes an abdication of our moral responsibility as leaders.”

In an essay for The Atlantic, Sorrell, who over the last 13 years has helped rescue historically black Paul Quinn from the brink of closure, said he recognizes that many colleges and universities faced significant financial and enrollment pressures before COVID-19 hit and are in worse shape today.

That is a primary reason why campus leaders would “gamble with human life this way,” given powerful evidence that “our institutions are the perfect environment for the continued spread of COVID-19,” he writes.

“The fear of the fiscal damage associated with empty campuses in the fall is the primary reason that schools are exploring every option to avoid that possibility,” he continues. “However, if a school’s cost-benefit analysis leads to a conclusion that includes the term acceptable number of casualties, it is time for a new model.”

College and university leaders are also acquiescing to pressure from “the unrealistic expectations of many faculty and staff members, students, alumni, and other stakeholders,” Sorrell writes. “If you are a college president right now, not everyone is going to like what you do. But if you are fair, honest and transparent, you will be respected; and it is always better to be respected than liked.”

— Doug Lederman

Disproportionate Impact on Post-High School Plans of Minority Families

May 18, 3:25 p.m. Growing percentages of parents, particularly black and Hispanic parents, of high school students report that their children's plans after high school have changed, according to the results of a new survey.

Roughly 8,000 people responded to the nationally representative survey, which was conducted earlier in May by Civis Analytics, a data firm. The survey was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

It found that 43 percent of white parents said their children's post-high school plans had changed, compared to 59 percent of black parents and 61 percent of Hispanic/Latinx parents. Over all, roughly half of parents who responded reported a change in those plans, down about 7 percent from a similar survey conducted on April 23.

The survey also found that 35 percent of employed Americans think it is likely they will lose their job in the next three months, but that concern is not shared equally among all Americans.

About a third (32 percent) of employed white Americans said it's likely they will lose their job, the survey found, while 45 percent of employed black Americans and 40 percent of employed Hispanic/Latinx Americans said the same. That finding correspondents to the latest unemployment data, Civis said.

— Paul Fain

U of South Carolina Plans to End In-Person Instruction by Thanksgiving

May 18, 1:15 p.m. The University of South Carolina is preparing to begin the semester on Aug. 20 with in-person classes and to end face-to-face instruction by Thanksgiving in anticipation of a potential increase in COVID-19 cases. “Our best current modeling predicts a spike in cases of COVID-19 at the beginning of December, which also will likely coincide with traditional flu season,” South Carolina’s president, Bob Caslen, said in a universitywide message.

Caslen also said South Carolina would cancel fall break, “as the public health risks associated with thousands of students and faculty returning to campus after fall break travels could be significant for the campus and Columbia communities and could jeopardize the continuation of the semester.”

— Elizabeth Redden

State Funding Hit to Higher Education Could Be Worse Than Great Recession

May 18, 11:55 a.m. Overall state support for higher education has fallen on a per-student basis since 2000 while federal funding has risen, said a new analysis from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew said the current recession likely will accelerate this major shift in government funding for public higher education.

"The pandemic has already created fierce economic headwinds that are driving down revenues as states face significant additional expenses in responding to the public health emergency and its economic ripple effects," the report said, citing recent cuts to higher education by Nevada and Ohio.

However, Pew said uncertainty clouds the outlook for state funding in coming months, and decisions by state and federal policy makers could change the industry's fortunes, particularly the amount and nature of federal aid. The higher education lobby has called for roughly $47 billion in emergency aid for institutions and students.

"The overall size and scope of any cuts will depend on the scale of state budget shortfalls and policy decisions at the state and federal levels," Pew said. "Although the outlook for states appears ominous, policymakers don’t yet have the data they need to know the depth of the revenue holes they face. States also can mitigate the need for sudden spending reductions in a downturn through policy actions such as tapping rainy day funds."

— Paul Fain

Will Veterans Be Excluded From CARES Act Emergency Grants?

May 18, 11:20 a.m. ​College students who are veterans of the U.S. military could be disproportionately denied emergency aid grants under the CARES Act because of the way the Education Department is interpreting congressional intent in passing the coronavirus relief package, according to a report from Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit advocacy group.

At issue is a ruling by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that only students who are eligible for federal student aid can receive the grants aimed at helping students with the costs of having their lives disrupted by the closure of campuses by the coronavirus pandemic, like finding places to live if residence halls are shut down.

Campus financial aid administrators have complained that the only way to tell if someone not already receiving student aid would qualify for the grants is if they have filled out Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms. “If institutions interpret this to exclude students who have not filed a FAFSA, many student veterans will be left out,” the group said, noting that students who receive GI Bill benefits do not apply for regular student aid.

Citing Education Department survey data, the report said that in the 2015-16 academic year, 36 percent of undergraduate student veterans did not file a FAFSA, compared to 29 percent of nonveterans. “However, the generosity of the GI Bill does not mean that campus-based student veterans were not affected by the disruptions caused by coronavirus,” the report said.

The department has said it is only implementing the emergency grants based on the language of the CARES Act. But the California community college system is suing the department, saying Congress didn’t require the emergency grants to go to students who qualify for other aid, and that the interpretation excludes undocumented and other students.

— Kery Murakami

Providence College Officials Apologize After Students Gathered Near Campus

May 18, 10:00 a.m. Leaders at Providence College apologized to the public after students gathered near campus, apparently disregarding executive orders from Rhode Island’s governor.

Video appearing on social media showed students along a street near campus on Saturday in groups of more than five people, not wearing masks on their faces, WPRI reported. A spokesperson for Providence College said the gathering came after parents organized a parade to congratulate seniors who were living in the neighborhood.

“A parent called the college earlier this week to ask about organizing the parade and we told her that the college could not be involved in the parade nor could we sanction it,” the spokesperson told WPRI in an email. “We asked her to contact Providence Police if this was something parents wanted to do.”

The college’s commencement has been postponed to Oct. 31, but students were slated to receive their degrees Sunday.

— Rick Seltzer

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