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Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education

Dems Propose Canceling Corinthian and ITT Student Debt in Next Stimulus

May 4, 2020, 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 Reps. 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’ 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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