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Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education

Top Democrats Criticize DeVos’s Handling of Stimulus Aid

May 1, 6 p.m. Top Democrats on key House and Senate education committees accused U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of failing to implement the CARES Act in an array of ways as Congress intended.

A new concern is that the department has decided not to allow college students to use emergency grants provided by last month’s stimulus package for necessities provided by their institutions, according to a letter sent to DeVos from Senator Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, and Representative Rosa DeLauro, the Democratic chairwoman of the House’s education appropriations committee.

“Many students rely on their institutions to meet basic needs. For example, a number of campuses that have restricted campus operations during COVID-19 still operate limited food and housing facilities for students — such as homeless students, former foster youth, and others with no ‘home’ to return to,” the letter said.

Murray and DeLauro also urged DeVos to reverse her decision to exclude from receiving stimulus aid undocumented students brought to the U.S. as children. DeVos has said that the language of the stimulus legislation, the CARES Act, bars those not eligible for federal student aid, including the so-called DACA students, from getting the grants.

But that’s not true, Murray and DeLauro wrote. “When we drafted emergency legislation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress did not place limitations on which students could or should get emergency aid — we simply directed the Secretary and institutions to make funds available to students,” they wrote.

“The extreme eligibility restrictions, which were added by the Department without any directive from Congress and without any statutory basis, represent an unconscionable response to the virus that does not discriminate against which students are impacted by it,” according to the letter.

Requiring students to be eligible for financial aid in order to get the emergency grants also excludes other students, the letter said. Those excluded include “students who do not meet academic progress standards, students who have not registered for the Selective Service, students with some types of drug convictions, certain students in adult basic education and dual enrollment programs who do not have a high school diploma, international students, and students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents,” the letter said.

In addition, Murray and DeLauro criticized the department’s decision to exclude students enrolled exclusively in online courses before March from being able to get emergency aid. Congress intended to leave that decision up to institutions, the letter said.

— Kery Murakami

Rep. Bobby Scott Says More Stimulus Needed for States and Colleges

May 1, 3:56 p.m. The chairman of the House education committee, Rep. Bobby Scott, called for Congress in its next stimulus package to give aid to states, as well as colleges and universities.

States face an estimated $500 budget shortfall from the economic fallout of the pandemic. Not including states in the next package, said Scott, a Virginia Democrat, would have “devastating effects on public services, including education.”

Scott, speaking at a House forum held by phone on the impacts of the pandemic, said Virginia had planned before the pandemic to freeze tuition at public colleges. Scott said, “These actions are now indefinitely on pause, and — without federal support — will probably just evaporate altogether.

Meanwhile, Scott and Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate’s education committee, proposed spending an additional $15 billion on workforce training, as well as career and technical education, to try to reduce unemployment.

The proposal, among other things, would spend $2 billion to restart a community college career training grant program from the last recession, to help employers find workers locally and train people for in-demand, well-paying jobs.

“By investing in our federal workforce programs we can change lives, boost our economy, and get people back to work — and that’s exactly what is needed in these difficult times,” Murray said in a statement.

But at the forum, Rep. Glenn Grothman, a Republican from Wisconsin, pushed back at further increasing spending, noting Congress has passed about $3 trillion in stimulus packages.

“We need to find ways to not spend more money,” he said.

— Kery Murakami

Division I Leaders Affirm Commitment to Retain Sports Programs

May 1, 1:30 p.m. After discussing requests from Division I athletic conference leaders to waive the number of sports some institutions are required to sponsor, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I Board of Directors and Presidential Forum, a group of presidents and chancellors from each of the Division I athletic conferences, decided Thursday that “requirements that support student-athletes and opportunities for participation are the most important,” according to a press release from the NCAA.

The board and forum agreed on a set of principles to guide future decision-making about the waiver requests, which range from limiting the number of sports competitions teams are required to participate in to reducing the number of athletic programs sponsored by colleges and universities in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The groups will look at “areas of potential flexibility” to help with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on higher education while “continuing to preserve opportunities for student-athletes,” the release said.

“Many of us are facing some serious conversations about the scope and capacity for us to have a full complement of intercollegiate sports and be able to fund them,” Franklin Gilliam, forum chair and president of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, said in the release. “As we take on a lot of the costs associated with COVID-19, I do think we and the NCAA overall are going to have to play a role in establishing guidelines that give us a road forward financially.”

The Intercollegiate Coach Association Coalition, or ICAC, which represents the interests of many non-revenue athletic programs, was particularly concerned by the waiver request last week but applauded the board and forum’s commitment in a press release Thursday. ICAC’s petition to the NCAA to protect athletic programs against cuts has collected more than 91,000 signatures in the last week, the release said.

“We agree with the announcement by the NCAA … and are pleased that their leadership shares the ICAC position of putting students first,” ICAC said in the release. “As the NCAA endorses new creative solutions that address the challenges wrought by this pandemic, we will continue to strongly advocate for the protection of sport sponsorship minimums.”

— Greta Anderson

Consumer Groups Say DeVos Isn’t Doing Enough to Stop Student Loan Borrower Garnishments

May 1, 1:05 p.m. The Education Department isn’t doing enough to stop garnishments against student loan borrowers who are behind in their payments, two consumer groups said in a federal class action lawsuit against U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Garnishments of student loan borrowers’ wages, Social Security benefits and tax refunds were prohibited until Sept. 30 by the CARES Act federal stimulus package. 

The Education Department has said it told loan servicers and employers to stop the garnishments. But according to the lawsuit, filed by the Student Defense and the National Consumer Law Center in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, some have slipped through. Another group called the Student Borrower Protection Center has been flooded with complaints about garnishments by student loan borrowers.

The lawsuit also cited a Washington Post report that, as of April 21, the department had tried to email and call employers to tell them not to take garnishments from their employees’ paychecks. But many employers weren’t contacted at a time of widespread remote work. The department hasn’t sent formal letters, the article said.

“Right now, low-wage workers hit hardest by the economic impact of the pandemic need their paychecks to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads,” Persis Yu, director of the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project, said in a press release. “By continuing to use its harsh collection tools during this public health and economic crisis, the Department of Education is placing the health, safety, and well-being of vulnerable student loan borrowers in peril.”

Education Department spokeswoman Angela Morabito declined comment on the lawsuit. But in a statement, she said, “The Department’s default loan servicer called employers by phone, sent emails when possible, and mailed letters to employers who could not be reached any other way. Payments we receive via garnished wages will be immediately processed for refund, and the employer will be contacted again to ensure the guidance to stop garnishing wages is understood. The Department relies on employers to stop garnishing wages, but is taking every measure to contact employers and refund garnished wages to borrowers.”

— Kery Murakami

Association of American Medical Colleges Praises New Rules

May 1, 11:45 a.m. The Association of American Medical Colleges released a statement Friday thanking the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for making a second round of regulatory changes in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The centers released rules that will expand COVID-19 testing for Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries, as well as allow hospitals to set up temporary expansion sites and provide more flexibility for health care workers to deliver in-home care and Medicare telehealth services.

“The AAMC thanks CMS for hearing our concerns and providing additional regulatory relief and flexibility to the health care system. These changes will increase the ability of the nation’s teaching hospitals and academic physicians to expand vital care to patients on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” David J. Skorton,  president and CEO of the AAMC, said in the statement. “Additionally, these critical regulatory changes will remove barriers to care and improve access for patients by allowing teaching hospitals to increase surge capacity without being penalized, relocate outpatient clinics to better serve their communities, and more efficiently deploy the nation’s health care workforce by clearing a path for medical residents to support community hospitals with workforce needs.”

— Madeline St. Amour

Education Department Probes Texas System’s Ties to Wuhan Lab

May 1, 10:39 a.m. The U.S. Department of Education has asked the University of Texas system to share documents relating to its relationship with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which U.S. officials are investigating as a possible source of the coronavirus outbreak, The Wall Street Journal reported. There is no publicly available evidence supporting the theory that an accident at the lab is the source of the outbreak.

The letter from the Education Department is part of a broader probe into foreign gifts and contracts that has involved at least eight other universities. In addition to asking for documents relating to the University of Texas’s ties to the Wuhan lab and one of its researchers, Shi Zhengli, the department is also asking for records regarding the university system’s ties to the governing Chinese Communist Party and about two dozen Chinese universities and companies, including the telecommunication company Huawei. The department also asked for documents relating to any gifts and contracts from Eric Yuan, a U.S. citizen who leads Zoom Video Communications.

A Zoom spokesperson said Yuan had “not given any gifts to the University of Texas.” The Wuhan lab, Shi and Huawei all did not respond to The Wall Street Journal’s requests for comment. A spokesperson for the University of Texas said it intends to respond to the Education Department and declined to provide information about possible links to entities mentioned in the department’s letter.

— Elizabeth Redden

Small Schools ‘Win the Lottery’ in Latest Stimulus Grants

May 1, 10:05 a.m. While the bulk of the $14 billion set aside for higher education in the CARES Act went to colleges and universities, Congress wanted smaller, specialized institutions, many of them religious in affiliation, to get at least $500,00 in stimulus funds.

Under one grant in the package, schools that didn’t get at least that much from the other parts of the CARES Act will get however much is needed to bring their amount of aid up to $500,000.

The U.S. Department of Education has released how 980 schools will divvy up $321.7 million in stimulus funds.

As Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education’s senior vice president for government and public affairs, said, “A significant number of schools just won the lottery.”

Among them:

  • The Institute of Taoist Education and Acupuncture, in Colorado, which had gotten $11,057, will get another $488,943;
  • The Mid-America College of Funeral Service, in Indiana, will get $490,883;
  • The Dragon Rises College of Oriental Medicine, in Florida, will get $481,960;
  • The Birthingway College of Midwifery, in Oregon, will get $481,960;
  • The Bergin University of Canine Studies, in California, will get $472,850;
  • The Hypnosis Motivation Institute, in California, will get $443,457.

A large number of the schools receiving the money appear to be seminaries, rabbinical colleges or theology schools.

They include God’s Bible School and College, in Ohio, which will receive $337,445 of stimulus money.

— Kery Murakami

Senate Republicans Seek to Block Wealthy Universities From Receiving Stimulus Funds

May 1, 9:17 a.m. A group of four Senate Republicans has co-sponsored a bill that would prohibit universities with endowments larger than $10 billion from receiving relief funds from the $2.2 trillion CARES Act unless they spend 10 times the amount of federal funds appropriated to them on coronavirus-related financial assistance for students.

“The university would have to demonstrate it spent the money on the same uses of funds required by the CARES Act — emergency financial aid grants to students to cover costs like food, housing, healthcare and childcare, and costs related to the disruption to the delivery of instruction due to COVID-19,” said a news release from Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who introduced the bill.

Senators Marsha Blackburn, of Tennessee, Martha McSally, of Arizona, and Marco Rubio, of Florida, have co-sponsored the bill. Two Republican U.S. representatives plan to introduce companion legislation in the House, the senators said.

“Universities with massive endowments should not be getting taxpayer money unless they spend some money out of their own pockets to actually help their students,” Hawley said in a statement. “This is common sense. Relief funds were intended for schools that need it, not wealthy universities that sit on huge endowments. It’s greed, plain and simple, and it’s wrong.”

The proposed legislation follows a similar push by President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to prohibit wealthy universities from receiving money from the CARES Act.

Several endowment-rich institutions, including Harvard, Stanford and Princeton Universities, last week said they would not accept federal stimulus funds to help their needy students.

— Paul Fain

DeVos Makes $1.4 Billion Available for Minority-Serving Institutions

April 30, 5:05 p.m. The U.S. Department of Education announced it is making available nearly $1.4 billion Congress set aside in the CARES Act for minority-serving institutions, including historically black colleges and tribal colleges. The department also released a spreadsheet detailing out how much institutions will receive, with North Carolina A&T State University receiving the most, $18 million.

The money, under the terms of the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill approved by Congress and signed by President Trump last month, can be used to pay for technology as classes move online during the pandemic, as well as other costs from campus closures, such as lost revenue associated with the transition to distance education, grants to cover the costs of attendance for eligible students and faculty and staff training. Additionally, funds may be used to cover operational costs, such as lost revenue, reimbursements for prior expenses and payroll. Minority-serving institutions, however, are seeking an additional $1.5 billion to cover the financial hit they’re taking during the pandemic.

“This administration is committed to the success of HBCUs, minority-serving Institutions and the students they serve. Each institution is unique and is an important part of this country’s educational fabric,” U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a news release. “By providing additional support to these important institutions, we can help ensure they emerge from this crisis stronger than before. I encourage these institutions, like all others, to use these funds to provide emergency grants to students during this challenging time, and to expand remote learning programs and build IT capacity.”

— Kery Murakami

Hybrid Most Likely Scenario to Reopen Indiana University

April 30, 3:30 p.m. Indiana University says it is “highly unlikely” that classes and research will resume in person this fall.

In a letter to the university’s constituencies, Michael A. McRobbie, the university’s president, laid out five potential scenarios for when the institution will reopen its campus.

The first scenario is reopening this fall, which McRobbie said is doubtful. The second is a hybrid reopening in the fall to include in-person and online classes, which he said is most likely.

“This scenario has several variations, each of which would require a high level of flexibility to accommodate rapid change in the course of the pandemic,” he wrote.

Other scenarios include a completely virtual fall semester, the possibility of returning to virtual options in the spring if the virus resurges and a completely virtual 2020-21 academic year.

If the second scenario wins out, the university will likely continue social distancing and deploy virus testing, temperature monitoring and contact tracing to protect students’ health, McRobbie wrote.

“We are still far from sure what form the next academic year will take, but it will almost certainly look and feel different. COVID-19 will be with us this fall in some way, and perhaps longer, until a cure is uncovered,” he wrote. “To this end, I do not want to sugarcoat the situation with trite phrases or hollow optimism. Even under the best of circumstances, academic and research life at IU will not be the same for some time, and we will feel the repercussions of this pandemic for many years.”

The letter contrasts with some other colleges and universities that have in the last week sounded optimistic notes about reopening campuses to students in the fall. They include Indiana University’s in-state rival, Purdue University, which, President Mitch Daniels has written, “intends to accept students on campus in typical numbers this fall, sober about the certain problems that the COVID-19 virus represents, but determined not to surrender helplessly to those difficulties but to tackle and manage them aggressively and creatively.”

— Madeline St. Amour

Eyeing ‘Unprecedented Level of Operating Stress,’ S&P Slashes Outlook for 127 Colleges

April 30, 2:33 p.m. S&P Global Ratings dropped outlooks on more than a quarter of the colleges and universities it rates because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on higher education.

The ratings agency cut ratings on 117 colleges — 84 private institutions and 33 public institutions — from stable to negative. It changed outlooks for 10 more — seven private and three public — from positive to stable. And it left unchanged outlooks for 50 institutions that were already negative.

Those actions mean the share of colleges and universities that S&P rates with negative outlooks has more than quadrupled in just a few months. At the end of 2019, just 9.2 percent of its rated higher ed universe had negative outlooks. After the actions announced today, 38 percent does. The agency maintains public ratings on 436 public and private colleges and universities.

A negative outlook for a college or university means S&P sees at least a one-in-three chance operating and economic conditions will significantly affect the institution’s credit characteristics.

Institutions with newly changed outlooks tend to be those with lower bond ratings, those with less financial flexibility and those with a more difficult market position than others, according to S&P. The ratings agency weighed liquidity most heavily in its assessment but also considered aspects of credit profiles including draw, selectivity, matriculation rates, operating margins, revenue diversity and, for public institutions, state funding.

“While S&P Global Ratings’ outlook on the U.S. not-for-profit higher education sector has been negative for three consecutive years now, we believe that the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic and financial impacts exacerbate pressures already facing colleges and universities,” a news release from S&P said. “The financial impact on institutions from the loss of auxiliary revenue from housing and dining fees, and parking fees; as well as revenues from athletics, theater, and other events, is material for many.”

Although the federal stimulus package provided some relief to colleges and universities, the ratings agency still expects stressed operating budgets. The extent of the stress depends on yet-to-be determined factors like the length of the pandemic, enrollment figures and how instruction is delivered come fall.

“We expect that the colleges and universities we rate will face an unprecedented level of operating stress and tightened liquidity, which will worsen the longer and deeper the pandemic lasts,” the S&P news release said.

Many institutions that the agency rates are expected to be able to absorb some of the pandemic’s impacts because they have built up strong reserves and balance sheets against relatively low debt levels. But if global travel restrictions stay in place and international and domestic enrollment falls, serious operational pressures will result.

“Students who are partially through academic courses have a strong motivation to return once campuses reopen,” the S&P release said. “This means revenues are deferred rather than lost forever. If, on the other hand, the duration of virtual teaching extends into 2021, we expect the financial damage will be more severe and the pressure on credit ratings will grow.”

At the end of last year, only 3.2 percent of S&P-rated colleges and universities had been assigned positive outlooks. All of those have now been revised to stable, because the agency’s experts believe positive momentum is likely to be stunted by the pandemic and accompanying economic collapse.

— Rick Seltzer

April 30, 1:20 p.m. Leaders of the Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University systems have said they intend to resume in-person courses and to have football seasons this fall, The Texas Tribune reported.

John Sharp, Texas A&M system chancellor, told the 11 university presidents in a call this morning that the system intends to reopen its campuses and be ready for football, according to the Tribune. And Lawrence Schovanec, Texas Tech’s president, in a letter yesterday said the system intends to begin a phased plan to “safely resume in-person teaching, learning and residential life” this fall. Both leaders said the systems would take precautions to protect students, faculty and staff members, with Schovanec mentioning social distancing and testing for COVID-19.

Schovanec wrote,

We need to recognize that campus life will be different when we return in the fall. Over the last few weeks, we have been closely monitoring the national landscape while several groups have been developing and analyzing various scenarios to bring our students, faculty and staff back to campus. Social distancing and safety protocols will be critical as we return to our classrooms, labs and residence halls. Our plans will also include recommendations regarding the use of protective masks, testing and contact-tracing, and other tools. We are developing several ways to reduce the density of groups in our student facilities, large lecture-based classrooms and our popular campus areas. These same plans extend to special events, including athletics.

— Paul Fain

U of Alaska Furloughs Top Administrators

April 30, 10:30 a.m. The University of Alaska announced the system’s president, Jim Johnsen, and other senior administrators will be furloughed for as many as 10 days in the coming year to deal with some of the $35 to $40 million financial hit the system is expecting from the coronavirus pandemic.

The $554,000 savings, however, will only make a small dent for a system that is also dealing with the three-year, $70 million cut in state funding Governor Michael J. Dunleavy and the Board of Regents announced in a deal last year, before the pandemic.

In addition to Johnsen, the system’s provosts, vice presidents and chief officers also will be furloughed for 10 days. Senior administrators including vice chancellors, associate vice presidents, associate vice chancellors and faculty administrative leaders will be furloughed for eight days.

“It is important that each of us do all that we can to help mitigate the financial impacts of COVID-19, the reduction in state support, declining enrollment and other factors,” Johnsen said in a news release. “Our students have worked hard to transition from campus life to remote studies. Our faculty have succeeded in delivering those distance courses. Now it is our turn. As leaders we must do our part.”

Johnsen said future cost-reduction measures will be considered before the final budget is adopted in June by the Board of Regents.

— Kery Murakami

Primer for States on College Closures

April 30, 10:18 a.m. Citing the unprecedented emergency the pandemic poses to the financial health of colleges and universities — and the disproportionate impact of college closures on low-income students and students of color — the National Governors Association and New America have released a guide for states in managing college closures.

“Ultimately, states should put the impact that closures have on students at the center of their decision making and policy interventions. We hope this primer for governors will help them do that,” Clare McCann, deputy director for federal policy at New America’s higher education program, said via email.

More than 500,000 college students were displaced by roughly 1,200 campus closures between 2014 and 2019, according to the report. Some of those institutions closed precipitously and without enough warning for students or staff members, leaving many thousands of students in debt and with doubts about the future of their educations.

The primer says,

Governors have considerable opportunity to use the regulatory guardrails already in place and take proactive measures to ensure that students receive proper communication from closing institutions, have a realistic opportunity to complete their degree or credential, and are not left in financial ruin when their institutions close before they can graduate. This resource is meant to be a primer on the state role in quality assurance and consumer protection. It also offers a guide for prospective state action to forecast and manage institutional closures induced by COVID-19.

Among recommendations from the two groups is a call for states to monitor colleges’ financial status and to identify those that are most at risk. In planning for possible closures, states should require teach-out plans and agreements from high-risk institutions, with a goal of protecting and providing clear information to students.

— Paul Fain

Texas State Technical College to Resume Some On-Campus Instruction Monday

April 30, 9:53 a.m. Texas State Technical College is opening campuses for some students, faculty and staff Monday so that students in programs requiring hands-on work can complete the semester.

The technical college system made the announcement, which affects its 10 campuses, yesterday afternoon, saying it was welcoming a “limited number” of students and employees back on campus. The move has been authorized by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Career and technical education is an area that can continue under the latest executive order from the state’s governor, according to the technical college system. Programs that cannot be delivered online and require hands-on instruction can continue being delivered in accordance with guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it said in a news release.

The announcement comes at a time when many colleges and universities are trying to decide whether they can announce intent to reopen in the fall — and how strongly they should word such announcements. An early wave of colleges this week has been signaling intent to reopen for the fall semester if possible.

Reopening technical college campuses Monday is far earlier than the timeline many other colleges are eyeing, but it is broadly consistent with the fact that Texas is among a handful of states making initial moves to relax coronavirus-related restrictions. Texas governor Greg Abbott this week announced a first phase of reopening the state. Retailers can begin reopening at limited capacity tomorrow.

Texas State Technical College students and employees are to wear face coverings and follow guidelines for social distancing. Plans to frequently clean buildings and offer sanitizers are also in place.

— Rick Seltzer

UNC System ‘Expects’ to Reopen Campuses in the Fall

April 29, 3:03 p.m. The University of North Carolina system said it expects to reopen all 17 campuses this fall. Bill Roper, the system’s interim president, said in a written statement that the state’s collective efforts to minimize the spread of COVID-19 are paying off. And he said the majority of faculty members and students across the system need access to its libraries, labs, classrooms and medical and agricultural facilities to “fully engage” with their research, teaching, learning and service work.

Roper wrote,

We are optimistically seeing indications of improvement and hopeful that this will continue. But these trends will continue only if we stay focused and diligent, which we must and will do. North Carolina will likely have improved capacity for tracking student exposure and greater access to the tools, materials, and supplies that can help minimize the virus’s threat. I expect to reopen our campuses for the fall 2020 semester and look forward to welcoming our faculty and students back to their classrooms and labs this fall. To do so, we are working closely with our chancellors to chart a course forward.

Until a vaccine is available, many across the system may be unable to teach or attend in-person classes, said Roper. And the system will seek to protect all vulnerable populations, both on and off campus.

“As examples, some institutions might consider staggered or shortened academic calendars, while others may take action to reduce student density in campus housing and classrooms,” Roper said. “Our plans will ensure that students and parents have the tools they need to stay fully engaged with their home institution, safely and with confidence.”

— Paul Fain

Immigrant and Civil Rights Groups Urge DeVos to Give Aid to DACA Students

April 29, 1:10 p.m. The immigrant rights group United We Dream and 259 other civil rights groups in a letter urged U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reverse her decision to exclude DACA college students from being able to receive emergency grants provided by Congress in the CARES Act stimulus package.

Students who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children already face stresses because the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the legality of President Trump’s 2017 order rescinding the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, according to the groups. The program gave around 700,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors abilities to live and work in the United States.

“The Department of Education should endeavor to ameliorate the high stress circumstances students find themselves in, instead of exacerbating them, through erroneous comments to Congress regarding immigration enforcement on campuses or by further denying aid,” the groups wrote in the letter to DeVos.

DeVos has said Congress required the Education Department to exclude DACA students from receiving any of the $6.2 billion set aside in the stimulus package to help students with costs like housing during the pandemic. Republicans like Senator Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate education committee, have told Inside Higher Ed through aides that was in fact the intent. But congressional Democrats disagree and say the package was meant to include DACA students.

United We Dream in a press release also urged other colleges to follow the lead of the University of California and California State University systems. Both, as first reported by Inside Higher Ed, are using their own funds to give DACA students emergency help.

— Kery Murakami

GDP Decreased by Annual Rate of 4.8% in First Quarter

April 29, 10:15 a.m. The nation’s real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased at an annual rate of 4.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020, according to a new advance estimate from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. And experts are predicting a steeper decline in the second quarter. The developing economic hit has obvious implications for higher education as consumers reduce spending.

“The decrease in real GDP in the first quarter reflected negative contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), nonresidential fixed investment, exports and private inventory investment that were partly offset by positive contributions from residential fixed investment, federal government spending and state and local government spending,” the BEA said. The steep drop in personal consumption was led by declines in spending on health care and goods, particularly motor vehicles, according to the BEA.

Current-dollar GDP decreased by 3.5 percent, or $191.2 billion, the federal data showed. Personal outlays decreased by $253.5 billion, after increasing by $118.8 billion.

— Paul Fain

Institution-Level Data Tool on CARES Act Funding

April 29, 8:50 a.m. A new dashboard features data from the U.S. Department of Education’s CARES Act stimulus funding table, which lists allocations for individual colleges and universities, and links those data to the most recent institution-level data from the federal College Scorecard. The data tool was created by the Student Success Through Applied Research (SSTAR) Lab at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

“The purpose of this tool is to help disseminate information and to explore patterns in data that have immediate implications for colleges and their students,” the lab said in a statement.

The data set includes information on 5,136 institutions. It features a searchable map, allocations per state and scatter plots showing per-student and total allocations, which can be sorted by a range of variables from the Scorecard.

— Paul Fain

Most Private College Students Say They’ll ‘Definitely’ Return Next Fall

April 28, 5:15 p.m. Roughly three-quarters of private college students who aren’t graduating this spring say they will “definitely” return to their current institution next fall, according to a survey of nearly 4,000 students by the HEDS consortium of liberal arts institutions.

The survey’s finding — that 73 percent of the roughly 3,000 freshmen, sophomores and juniors surveyed answered “definitely yes” when asked if they would return to their current institution — probably heartens administrators at the 10 private colleges whose students were surveyed.

But while another 18 percent of respondents said they would “probably” return, the researchers suggest that colleges should not count on those students being back. The survey also asked students how deep a connection they felt to their current institution, and the students who said they “probably” would return answered the connection question more like the 10 percent of students who seemed unlikely to return than like those who said they would definitely return.

“Given this and other patterns we’ve seen in our review of the data, we suggest that when it comes to students’ intent to return to their institution, ‘probably yes’ should be read as ‘maybe no.’”

Students who said they were unsure whether they would return or that they probably or definitely would not were asked why they might not go back. “They mentioned things like the college’s location or its distance from home, feeling unsupported, not being able to major in the area they wanted to at their current institution, not feeling like they were part of the campus community, concerns about friends and social opportunities, and financial concerns.”

— Doug Lederman

Vermont State Colleges Chancellor to Resign

April 28, 1:17 p.m. Vermont State Colleges chancellor Jeb Spaulding will resign Wednesday, VTDigger reports.

His resignation follows a plan to close three VSC campuses in response to the financial fallout of the coronavirus outbreak. The plan was quickly met with public outrage and pushback from state officials.

“It is with a heavy heart, but firm resolve that I submit my resignation as chancellor of this incredible organization that I have been so privileged to lead,” Spaulding said in an emailed statement to VTDigger. “I realize that a fresh perspective and new leadership is necessary to move the VSCS forward in its mission. I will continue to do all I can to provide support in the transition and champion the system’s leaders as they work through the challenges ahead,” he said.

The VSC Board of Trustees will decide how to fill Spaulding’s position at its Wednesday meeting.

— Emma Whitford

Number of Colleges Announcing Fall Plans Mounts

April 28, 11:30 a.m. Colleges around the country are announcing their intentions for the fall semester.

Several have said they intend to reopen campus in the fall.

George Fox University, a Christian college located a half hour from Portland, Ore., said it plans to institute safety procedures over the summer to prepare for the fall. It is making personal protective equipment and will devise a strategy to keep residence halls safe. As a caveat, the college said it will follow the governor’s mandates.

“COVID-19 may steal our comforts of routine, face-to-face interaction, and predictability, but the deepest danger is allowing COVID-19 to rob us of the next generation of innovators, nurses, counselors, teachers, artists, pastors, physical therapists, business leaders, and social workers,” the college said in a release.

Baylor University, a Christian university in Texas, also plans to reopen in the fall, with the caveat that its plans depend on a continued decline of cases in its area, as well as federal and state guidance.

The university is planning to reopen in five phases beginning June 1.

Sierra College, a community college located outside Sacramento, is planning for the opposite. In a tweet, the college said it is planning to stay online come fall to keep students and staff safe.

The college made the decision early so faculty could better prepare to continue online learning. If the novel coronavirus surges in the fall, as many researchers have said is a possibility, students will not have to once again quickly transition to online learning, the college said.

Sierra intends to find alternatives like hybrid learning for courses that cannot be fully remote.

“We understand this situation is not ideal for anyone, but we hope by making this decision early we can prepare better for the fall semester and continue to help our students complete their educational goals as best we can,” the college tweeted.

— Madeline St. Amour​

Radford U Says It Will Reopen Aug. 3

April 27, 10:35 a.m. Radford University’s president, Brian Hemphill, in a campuswide message announced that the public institution will resume full campus operations on Aug. 3, including campus housing and dining services. Radford, which is located in Virginia, plans to resume in-person instruction on Aug. 24.

“I look forward to welcoming each and every one of you back to campus with all locations completely open and all services fully available for the Fall 2020 semester,” Hemphill said in the statement. “We will overcome this unprecedented challenge together as one Radford family!”

To reopen by the planned date, Hemphill said some university employees will need to report to work before the state lifts its stay-at-home order, currently scheduled for June 10. The university enrolls roughly 9,300 students, with 8,000 undergraduates, according to federal data.

Hemphill wrote,

The health, safety, and well-being of you and your fellow Highlanders remain our top priority. As a result, we are working diligently on contingency planning to account for continued developments based on analysis and research by public health experts. Additionally, we are examining policies and procedures regarding social distancing protocol; personal protective equipment, or PPE, utilization; testing availability; classroom configuration; event size; etc.

— Paul Fain

Democratic Senators Admonish DeVos Over DACA Exclusion

April 27, 5:55 p.m. Twenty-eight Democratic senators admonished U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for her decision last week to exclude so-called DACA college students from receiving emergency grants through the coronavirus relief package Congress approved last month.

“This decision unnecessarily harms students in need, and contradicts clear Congressional intent and the plain language of the CARES Act,” the senators wrote, referring to the package. “We expect you to comply with the intent of the CARES Act and reverse this.”

DeVos has said the measure passed by Congress bars college students who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children from getting the grants to help them deal with the financial costs of campus closures during the pandemic. But the senators dispute that, saying it is in the public interest to provide students with emergency financial aid.

“Ensuring that all students have secure housing, food and health care during a time of economic turmoil is a key part of keeping families safe and indoors and to ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the letter organized by senators Robert Menendez, of New Jersey, and Michael Bennet, of Colorado. “Furthermore, we have seen disturbing data on how COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color. Blocking support for DACA recipients will only worsen this crisis and harm our families and communities.”

Kery Murakami

University of California and Cal State to Give Emergency Grants to DACA Students

April 27, 5:35 p.m. The University of California and California State University systems will use their own funds to give emergency grants to help students who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children deal with the financial costs of campus closures during the pandemic.

The move comes after U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in a controversial decision announced last week that students who are covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are not eligible for aid set aside by Congress in the CARES Act coronavirus relief package.

“The University of California is very disappointed that undocumented students, some of the most vulnerable members of our community, are not eligible to access funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” Sarah McBride, a UC spokeswoman, said in an email.

She said about 4,000 students in the system are undocumented, about 1,600 of whom were given the right to live and work in the country lawfully under the DACA program.

Toni Moelle, a Cal State spokeswoman, said about 9,800 students in the system are undocumented. She couldn’t say how many fit the definition of DACA.

It wasn’t immediately clear if any other institutions are making emergency grants available to help DACA students deal with costs like finding housing or purchasing computers as colleges close campuses and move classrooms online during the pandemic.

However, Jose Munoz, of United We Dream, an advocacy group for DACA students, said he didn’t know of any other institutions.

Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said other colleges considering giving grants to those in DACA do not want to say so publicly. “We applaud any schools who can garner the will and resources to care for students who have been excluded by the Trump administration,” he said in an email.

Kery Murakami

Federal Grants for Workforce Preparation Programs

April 27, 3:50 p.m. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced she’s making $127.5 million in CARES Act funding available for Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grants.

The grants are designed “to expand short-term postsecondary programs and work-based learning programs in order to get Americans back to work and help small businesses return to being our country’s engines for economic growth,” the Education Department said in a news release.

“Current students and displaced workers will be navigating a very different job market and economy once America reopens,” DeVos said in the release. “This competition is a tremendous opportunity for states to think creatively and strategically about what their workforce needs will be and how to support entrepreneurs and small business in order to get the economic engines in their states firing on all cylinders again.”

A notice seeking applications will be issued later this week, and application packages for these competitions will be available within two weeks. Applicants will then have 60 days to apply. A panel of independent peer reviewers will review the applications, the release said.

DeVos also announced the availability of $180 million in CARES Act Rethink K-12 School Models Grants, which, the release said, is “aimed at opening new, innovative ways for students to access K-12 education with an emphasis on meeting students’ needs during the coronavirus national emergency.”

— Kery Murakami

Senate Dems Call for Action to Help Hungry College Students

April 27, 3:00 p.m. More than a dozen Democratic senators are asking leadership to make the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or D-SNAP, an eligible form of assistance for college students.

Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Duckworth and more than a dozen others sent a letter with this request to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, according to a news release.

College students often can’t access SNAP because they must meet certain criteria, like working at least 20 hours per week or having dependent children. Several states asked federal agencies to let them waive those restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, but their requests were denied.

Because of COVID-19, many students have lost their jobs and can’t fulfill the work requirement, the senators’ letter states. At the same time, many have lost access to resources like food pantries as campuses have closed down.

Congress could amend the Stafford Act and qualify D-SNAP under individual assistance during pandemics, which would give students access to this assistance.

“D-SNAP was created to meet immediate food needs during times of disaster. There is no doubt that the current crisis is causing closures and disruptions similar to those caused by a hurricane or an earthquake, but on a national scale,” the letter states. “D-SNAP would apply to college students who are employed or unemployed, and to those who have dropped out due to the challenges of remote learning as long as they meet income requirements. For those already enrolled in SNAP, it provides the maximum SNAP benefit.”

— Madeline St. Amour

Tourism-Dependent States Face Outsize Budget Impact

April 27, 2:37 p.m. Tourism is one of the hardest-hit economic sectors amid the pandemic and recession, according to S&P Global Ratings, the credit ratings firm. States that are most dependent on tourism are likely to see credit pressures due to loss of revenue, spikes in unemployment and decreased economic activity. These states may face a significant lag in the recovery, S&P said in a new report. State budget cuts pose severe challenges to public universities and colleges.

Nevada and Hawaii face the largest proportional budget hits due to the collapse of tourism, the firm said, followed by Florida, Montana, Wyoming, South Carolina, Colorado, Louisiana and Rhode Island, according to S&P.

Both President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and majority leader, have in recent days questioned whether states and local governments should receive federal relief funds. McConnell last week said such a bailout would help states that have mismanaged their budgets in the past, such as through large pension liabilities for teachers and other public employees. He suggested instead that states declare bankruptcy.

Trump today tweeted critically about bailing out “poorly run states” managed by Democrats. Andrew Cuomo, New York’s Democratic governor, responded, noting that his state contributes more to the federal government than it receives. He said New York has a deficit of $10 billion to $15 billion due to the pandemic, which has hit the state particularly hard.

“That’s why the federal government has to provide funding — because we don’t have the money,” he said, according to The Washington Post.

— Paul Fain

Don’t Send Money Back to Feds, Advocacy Group Writes

April 27, 12:30 p.m. Young Invincibles, a nonprofit that advocates for young people, is asking college and university leaders to not return funding from the federal stimulus package, the CARES Act.

In an open letter, Kyle Southern, policy and advocacy director for higher education and workforce issues at the organization, urges institutions to instead use their funds to help their neediest students or nearby community colleges.

Several elite institutions, including Princeton and Stanford Universities, have said they will decline or send back funding they received from the federal coronavirus relief package. President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have applauded these decisions and urged other wealthy colleges to do the same.

But, Southern writes, these institutions still serve low-income students who could use the emergency aid funding included in the package.

If institutions are sure they can handle students’ needs without the extra funding, they should send that money to nearby two-year colleges, Southern writes.

“How could anyone who has followed education for the last three years entrust dollars Congress explicitly directed be put in the hands of students as fast as possible instead back in the hands of this Department of Education?” Southern writes. “We know too much about the already-stretched accounts of colleges serving the highest numbers of first-generation and low-income students and too little about what the Department might do with these rejected emergency grant dollars.”

— Madeline St. Amour

Racist Attack Disrupts African American Student Group’s Zoom Meeting

April 26, 12:48 p.m. An online meeting of the University of South Carolina’s Association of African American Students on Friday was seemingly hacked by people who used racial slurs, blackface and neo-Nazi symbols, WVLT News reported.

The incident happened during a meeting on the online meeting platform Zoom, in another seeming incident of so-called Zoombombers infiltrating university courses or events and spewing racist, sexist or pornographic content.

South Carolina’s president, Bob Caslen, said in a statement on Saturday that the university has asked Zoom to investigate and that its Office of Equal Opportunity Programs is prepared to investigate if students are found to be responsible.

“This is absolutely unacceptable, and we are saddened that our students had to witness these despicable acts,” Caslen said. “Our students, who gathered in fellowship during a time of hardship and uncertainty, expected that they’d be in a safe, welcoming environment. Unfortunately, that environment was breached by cowardly individuals looking to cause harm during this already difficult time.”

The Association of African American Students said on Twitter that its members had gathered for a virtual celebration of what would normally be their end-of-year cookout when “unknown persons entered and proceeded to post a plethora of images, videos and messages containing racist slurs and derogatory terms.”

“We are completely repulsed by the actions of these individuals and offer support to those who were subject to or in any way impacted by it,” the group said.

— Elizabeth Redden

Oakland U Plans for Hybrid Fall, President Takes 20% Pay Cut

April 26, 11:52 a.m. Oakland University, a public university in Michigan, is planning for a “hybrid” instructional approach this fall involving a mix of online and in-person instruction, The Detroit News reported.

“At this point, indications are that COVID-19 will remain a threat into the fall,” Oakland’s president, Ora Pescovitz, said on Friday. “As we prepare for the fall semester, we are planning for a hybrid approach that includes both face-to-face and remote instruction.”

Pescovitz also said she is taking a 20 percent salary cut, and that executives and deans will take cuts ranging from 3 to 5 percent.

— Elizabeth Redden

Penn Rejects Stimulus Funding, Too

April 26, 11:37 a.m. The University of Pennsylvania joined other wealthy universities, including Harvard, Princeton and Stanford Universities, in announcing that it would forgo funds under the coronavirus stimulus package after the Trump administration urged colleges “with large endowments” to turn down the money. Penn qualified for about $9.9 million in stimulus money under a formula used by the Department of Education to calculate awards. About half of that was designated to be used for emergency aid for students.

As Philadelphia Magazine reported, Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson had attacked the University of Pennsylvania for potentially accepting the funding, noting that President Amy Gutmann’s compensation accounts for nearly a third of what would have been their federal stimulus check.

“University presidents get to pay themselves, and they pay themselves more than you might think, a lot,” Carlson said last week. “The University of Pennsylvania, a school for kids on the Harvard wait list, received $9.9 million. The president of UPenn, Amy Gutmann, makes nearly $3 million. That’s about a third of the entire bailout. If paying Amy Gutmann is such a priority, maybe the school could find that money in their $14.7 billion endowment.”

In a statement issued Thursday, Penn said the university “had experienced a substantial increase in costs to support students in the move from campus to online learning, combined with lost revenue across many areas of the university.” However, the university said it would not apply for or accept stimulus funding “after analyzing the full scope of the regulations involved.”

— Elizabeth Redden

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