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Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education

University of Arizona Projects $250 Million Loss

April 19, 10:50a.m. The University of Arizona announced pay cuts this week to defray an expected $250 million loss from the coronavirus pandemic, the Arizona Daily Star has reported. The university said it has already seen $66 million in losses. 

The cuts, which go into effect May 11, will require anyone making over $150,001 to take at least a 17-percent pay cut. Those making less will be required to take unpaid work days resulting in a 5-percent salary reduction. The cuts will last at least until June 2021. The salary decreases are expected to save the university up to $95 million. 

The university already has imposed a hiring freeze, delayed merit increases, halted three building projects, withheld $22 million investment in the strategic plan and required executive leadership to take a 20-percent pay cut. Those efforts are expected to save $50-60 million.

The losses are the result of expected decreases in tuition, parking and residence hall payments. Tuition makes up 30 percent of the university’s revenue. Out -of-state tuition is expected to fall 25 percent.

— Lilah Burke

Valparaiso University Furloughs 200 Employees

April 19, 10:30a.m. Valparaiso University in Indiana has announced that it will furlough 200 fulltime and part-time employees, The Times of Northwest Indiana reported. Employees not furloughed and earning at least $48,000 will see a temporary salary reduction starting at 2 percent. Mark Heckler, Valparaiso’s president, has voluntarily taken a 30-percent pay cut. 

The furloughs will begin April 16 and are expected to last until July 31.

–Lilah Burke

Cal State Suspends Use of Test Scores in Admissions

April 17, 2:15 p.m. The California State University system is suspending the use of SAT and ACT scores in admissions through the 2021-22 academic year.

To be eligible to apply to system institutions without test scores, students must be first-time freshmen who are high school graduates or equivalent. They must have completed the 15-unit comprehensive college preparatory course pattern and earn qualifying grades, according to a news release.

“The California State University has provided access to a high-quality education for millions of Californians from all walks of life, and we will continue to fulfill our academic mission even during these most trying of times,” Timothy White, chancellor of the system, said in the release. “This temporary change will ensure equitable access to the university, and should provide some measure of relief to prospective students and their families.”

— Madeline St. Amour

Vermont Faces Three Public Campus Closures

April 17, 1:50 p.m. Leaders of the Vermont State Colleges system are considering closing three campuses in response to financial hits from the coronavirus pandemic.

The proposed plan, reported on by VT Digger, would shutter Northern Vermont University, which has two campuses, and consolidate Vermont Technical College’s operations to just its Williston campus.

The news came during a caucus meeting of the state’s Senate, shocking several lawmakers, according to VT Digger. The campuses at risk of closure employ many people in poor regions of the state, and about 500 employees would be cut under this plan.

Some lawmakers suggested they pass a resolution to prevent the system’s Board of Trustees from making this decision on its own, but others said it’s unrealistic to expect all campuses to remain open without significantly more state funding.

— Madeline St. Amour

Black and Hispanic Students Report Higher Rates of Financial Hardship

April 17, 11:55 a.m. Some 81 percent of college students are facing financial difficulties due to COVID-19, according to a survey of about 1,000 students by the loan management website Student Loan Hero. Hardships include job loss, trouble paying bills and food insecurity. Student loan borrowers report having more troubles than their peers without loans. Most respondents want at least partial student loan forgiveness as part of any government response to the crisis.

Black and Hispanic students report more difficulties than their white peers. Thirty-three percent of black students are having trouble paying for food, and 22 percent are struggling with housing expenses. Among Hispanic students, those figures were 36 percent and 18 percent, respectively. Twenty-one percent of white students reported experiencing food insecurity, and 14 percent faced housing issues.

Also worrisome, more than one-third of students are taking on debt make ends meet during the pandemic, according to the survey. Many report anxiety about academics and their chance of finding a job after graduation.

— Colleen Flaherty

Women’s College to Admit Men Ahead of Schedule

April 17, 11:35 a.m. A formerly all-women’s college will start admitting men in the fall, though they still won’t be allowed to live on campus or participate in sports until fall 2021.

Columbia College, a private institution in South Carolina, had intended to admit men in fall 2021, but it sped up the process as remote learning may continue through the next academic year and more students consider attending colleges closer to home, according to a news release.

“These factors are likely to make the summer of 2020 a crucial window in which to enact the expansion of our brand of high-quality, leadership-focused, liberal arts education at a time when it is sorely needed. This is the same motivation that compelled the college to open to men for a brief period after World War II,” Peter T. Mitchell, president of Columbia College, said in the release.

— Madeline St. Amour

UC System Faces Mounting Budget Shortfall

April 17, 11:30 a.m. The University of California spent $558 million in unanticipated costs arising from the coronavirus pandemic in March alone, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Janet Napolitano, president of the UC system, wrote a letter detailing the financial impacts to Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, and state legislative leaders. The estimated lost monthly revenue for the system is about $100 million, according to the Times.

Napolitano is asking for more funding to weather the pandemic.

Beyond room and board refunds, costs for moving online, and loss of auxiliary revenue, the system is also facing mounting costs from fighting the virus. UC’s health centers and researchers are treating COVID-19 patients and searching for treatments.

The state is facing its own budget shortfalls. Analysts estimate California could have a deficit of $35 billion soon.

— Madeline St. Amour

Education Department Trying to Stop Student Loan Garnishments

April 17, 10:50 a.m. Responding to complaints by congressional Democrats on Thursday that some student loan borrowers who are late on their payments are having their wages garnished, an Education Department spokeswoman said the department is doing what it can to help.

Though the department and the CARES stimulus bill approved by Congress stops student loan garnishments for 60 days, the mechanism for ongoing collection calls for the borrower’s employer to follow the department’s instructions and to stop garnishing the wages.

“To facilitate this, the department’s default student loan servicer has already started reaching out to employers to advise them to stop garnishing wages of defaulted borrowers with federally held student loans,” Angela Morabito, a department spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Thus far, loan servicers have contacted the employers of more than 135,000 borrowers, she said, and have started to follow up with phone calls.

If the department receives funds from a garnishment during the time of the involuntary collection freeze — between March 13 and Sept. 30 — the department will refund those garnished wages.

In the letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, more than 30 House and Senate Democrats demanded to know when garnished borrowers will get their money back. Morabito said the department already has started sending the refunds.

— Kery Murakami

College Graduates Less Likely to Have Lost Jobs

April 17, 9:50 a.m. U.S. workers with college degrees were eight percentage points less likely to have lost their jobs during the coronavirus crisis compared to workers without degrees, according to a new working paper by a group of researchers from the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge and University of Zurich. The researchers found a six-percentage-point gap in the U.K. between college degree holders and those without them.

The research project is focused on how the pandemic and government policy are affecting inequality across individual characteristics, including age, gender, occupation, work arrangements and education. It is based on two waves of large, geographically representative survey data from the U.S. and U.K. during the last month. Results are broken down by occupation and income level.

The research indicates that occupation and the percentage of tasks one can do from home explain most if not all of the variation in job loss across the degree gap. Not surprisingly, people in work arrangements or occupations where they are able to do only a small share of tasks at home were more likely to have lost their jobs.

The crisis has increased other existing inequalities in labor market outcomes, according to the research, including the gender gap, with women being more likely to have lost jobs. And women who have been able to work from home are spending more time caring for children and homeschooling them, the surveys found. Over all, the paper describes a large, unequal impact from the ongoing crisis.

“The outlook on the future is bleak with many workers expecting to lose their jobs over the next months,” the paper concludes. “The results highlight the need for immediate policy responses that target those groups in the population that are most affected by the crisis.”

– Paul Fain

Democrats Blast Garnishment of Overdue Student Loan Payments

April 16, 4:15 p.m. Following reports that some student loan borrowers are having their wages garnished in spite of a promise in the federal coronavirus stimulus package that the U.S. Department of Education will stop the practice, more than 30 congressional Democrats blasted the Trump administration for continuing garnishments.

“For the hundreds of thousands of struggling student loan borrowers who were seeing their hard-earned wages unfairly garnished, this protection is a critical lifeline and will undoubtedly be the difference between whether these families can pay rent, put food on the table and cover the costs of medical care,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent Thursday to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Lawmakers also want to know when those who had their wages garnished will get the money refunded, according to the letter, which was organized by Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, and Democratic congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

The letter came after the Student Borrower Protection Center said in a blog post Tuesday it “has heard from dozens of borrowers who are still having their wages seized. We fear this happening to thousands more.”

An Education Department spokeswoman wasn’t immediately available for comment.

— Kery Murakami

University of Chicago Freezes Tuition

April 16, 3:03 p.m. The University of Chicago agreed to freeze the price of 2020-21 tuition, housing and fees for undergraduates, citing the economic challenges families are facing because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a letter to students signed by Provost Ka Yee Lee and John Boyer, dean of the college.

Some graduate programs will also freeze tuition, said Julia Attie, an organizer for UChicago for Fair Tuition, a student group demanding a 50 percent tuition reduction and fee waiver for the university’s spring quarter. Hundreds of Chicago students have said they will hold out on paying spring quarter tuition past the April 29 deadline in protest.

“The University of Chicago continues to recognize that COVID-19 has brought about a period of acute challenge and uncertainty,” the letter to students said. “The impact on our College community as a whole, as well as the strain placed on students and their families, is profound … The University will continue to do what it can to support its community during this unprecedented time.”

— Greta Anderson

Unemployment Claims Balloon to 22 Million

April 16, 10:30 a.m. Americans filed more than 5.2 million new unemployment claims last week, the U.S. Department of Labor reported, bringing the total number of claims filed since social distancing began in March to 22 million.

The historic spike of initial unemployment claims is the largest on record, topping roughly 700,000 reported job losses in 1982, according to Vox, which cited expert estimates of a total current jobless rate of 12 to 15 percent, the worst since the Great Depression’s unemployment of 24 percent.

State budgets face severe projected tax revenue shortfalls as businesses shutter and amid the rapid jump in unemployment from record low rates to unprecedented high ones. As a result, public colleges and universities are bracing for deep state budget cuts in coming weeks and months. Some of that slashing already has begun.

The federal CARES Act, the recently enacted $2.2 trillion stimulus, expands the scope of unemployment insurance eligibility to extend to more independent contractors and gig economy workers, Vox reported. And state UI systems are overwhelmed, meaning the reported claims figures likely undercount the actual number of Americans seeking unemployment assistance.

— Paul Fain

Illinois System Puts Stimulus Money Into Financial Aid Fund

April 16, 10:15 a.m. After initially discussing waiving a tuition increase for next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Illinois system is creating a $36 million financial aid fund that draws from federal stimulus funding and aims to help students who are under financial pressure because of the outbreak.

The fund will draw support from the federal stimulus package — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act — plus money from the system and its three universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. Private fundraising is also planned.

Discussions had been underway about waiving a tuition increase for next year because of the financial challenges the pandemic created, according to a University of Illinois system news release. But leaders decided that idea would have limited impact because only incoming freshmen and transfer students are going to pay the increased tuition.

Tuition increases are planned to be 1.8 percent for students at Urbana-Champaign, 1.8 percent at Chicago and 1 percent at Springfield. In-state tuition is going up for the first time in six years. Leaders say the increase is needed to pay for new faculty members and keep pace with rising enrollment.

The new fund will provide aid to help offset students’ costs beyond just tuition, and it aims to target students with the greatest needs. It will prioritize students from Illinois and is guaranteed to cover next year’s tuition increase for new undergraduate students from the state.

“The pandemic has disrupted college savings plans that were years in the making and created financial hardships no one could have foreseen,” the system’s president, Tim Killeen, said in a statement. “We want to make sure it doesn’t deny students access to the education that will transform their lives and supply the next-generation workforce that is so critical to the future of our state and nation.”

The federal stimulus package is providing $31.5 million to the universities to be used for students. The system’s three universities are in line to receive a total of $63 million under a CARES Act formula.

System leaders expect the new fund to only be needed through the 2020-21 academic year. They will re-evaluate during any economic recovery.

— Rick Seltzer

Community Members ‘Disappointed’ With Dartmouth Students

April 15, 5:40 p.m. Dartmouth College dean Kathryn Lively asked students to abide by social distancing measures after the college received several complaints about social gatherings and students returning, CBS Boston reported.

The college’s handbook requires students to abide by local, state and federal law and not threaten the safety of others. Students in violation of the handbook could face serious disciplinary action, including suspension, Lively said in a letter to students on April 14.

— Greta Anderson

FAFSA Completion Rate Down

April 15, 1:53 p.m. The percentage of students finishing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, was down at the beginning of April.

FAFSA completion was down two percentage points year over year as of April 3, USA Today reported, citing tracking from the National College Attainment Network. Declines came in recent weeks, roughly corresponding to the time when high schools were sending students home and ending in-person classes. High schools often help students who are filling out the FAFSA.

Declines were most significant among schools with many low-income students. That’s noteworthy because students must complete the FAFSA in order to obtain federal financial aid, and many students would struggle to pay for college without federal aid.

USA Today reported the FAFSA numbers as part of a broader piece examining how the coronavirus is affecting students’ college choices, institutional finances, recruiting and other aspects of higher education.

Some polling has suggested that certain groups of students are more likely than others to consider delaying or changing their enrollment plans because of the coronavirus. They include those who report that their families have lost income, first-generation students and nonwhite students.

— Rick Seltzer

Pa.’s Public Universities Brace for Hit While Lawmaker Floats Closures

April 15, 1:40 p.m. The 14 universities that comprise ​​​​​Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education are preparing for $70 million to $100 million in state budget slashing this spring, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. And an influential state lawmaker is questioning whether all 14 universities will remain financially viable during the coronavirus crisis.

State Senator Scott Martin, a Republican who is a member of the system’s governing board, told the newspaper that closures are a worst-case scenario.

“The status quo won’t lead to the long-term solvency of the system,” Martin said to the Inquirer. “I don’t know if [it’s enough] in the short term for a lot of the schools.”

Even before the crisis, the system had faced challenging finances, particularly in a state that is home to a shrinking number of potential traditional-age college students.

Writing about the system’s budget request in a February blog post, Dan Greenstein, PASSHE’s chancellor, called for new approaches by both the state and the universities.

“Our strength, our potential, is also threatened by years of neglect on the part of the Commonwealth, which for too long has chosen to underfund public higher education,” he wrote. “But we too, are party to that neglect — not owing to incompetence or negligence or mal-intent. On the contrary, I am every day impressed by the quality, talent, commitment and good intent of our faculty and staff. Still, for whatever reason, we have been slow to evolve in ways that enable us to meet the dramatically changing needs of our students, their employers, our communities and the state. And we have been slow to address the practical financial challenges that result from long-running structural changes in the demographic and political economy of Pennsylvania higher education.”

— Paul Fain

ECMC Foundation’s $1.5 Million for Emergency Aid

April 15, 12:45 p.m. A Los Angeles-based foundation is committing $1.5 million toward emergency aid for students.

The ECMC Foundation, an affiliate of nonprofit ECMC Group, which includes a student loan guarantee agency, is providing funding to organizations that could impact 3,000 students, as well as other resources, according to a news release.

The grants include $500,000 to Believe in Students to distribute emergency aid through the app Edquity and $500,000 to support the California College Student Emergency Support Fund. A collaborative of 11 public research universities will also receive $250,000 to support emergency needs for low-income students. An ECMC initiative will also get $250,000 to supplement an emergency aid program for students at minority-serving institutions.

“Many students are severely impacted by sudden and dramatic changes due to COVID-19, such as losing the stable housing they once had on campus and being temporarily or permanently displaced from work. For students who are also caring for children or dependents, the impact is even more severe,” Peter Taylor, president of the ECMC Foundation, said in the release. “At ECMC Foundation, we felt philanthropy had a deep and moral obligation to step in, respond and help. We understand, by no means, that this will solve the unprecedented challenges students are facing, but it is a means to mitigate the crisis.”

— Madeline St. Amour

Students Concerned About Changing College Choice or Delaying Enrollment

April 15, 12:00 p.m. One in four high school students headed for college believes the coronavirus pandemic could prompt a change in college choice, according to new results from a national online survey.

More than 7,100 high school seniors took part in the survey, which is from the consulting firm Eduventures and was administered between March 27 and April 5. Almost all respondents, 93 percent, had been admitted to at least one college or university, and remaining participants were still waiting to be accepted.

More than half of all students, 56 percent, expressed moderate or extreme concern that they would be delaying their college enrollment. But those most directly financially affected may be considering a delay at greater rates.

A third of respondents reported losing family income. Among that third of students, 64 percent believe they might delay college enrollment.

Those most likely to say their enrollment decisions may be affected are first-generation and nonwhite students, as well as those who live in counties that voted Democratic in the 2016 presidential election.

Still, students are overall about three times more concerned about missing key high school experiences than they are having to change their college plans.

Eduventures released the survey as it offers recommendations for institutions and plans a webinar on the topics today at 2 p.m. Eastern. After that webinar concludes, the full survey results will be available.

“We feel that institutions must be prepared for scenarios with increased financial pressure on families,” said Kim Reid, principal analyst for Eduventures Research and primary author of this study, in a statement. “This means moving beyond the immediate communication and yield efforts into discussions of sustainable financial aid and pricing strategies that will assist families in the difficult time ahead.”

The survey’s top-line findings are broadly consistent with previous polling by other organizations.

— Rick Seltzer

Survey: Millennials Bearing Brunt of Jobs Impact From Crisis

April 15, 11:25 a.m. The latest results of a weekly survey of U.S. adults found “slightly less intense” emotions and concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on jobs and incomes.

However, two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) remain worried they may lose their jobs — down from 70 percent last week — while about half are worried the crisis will negatively impact their finances, according to the survey report from the Strada Education Network, a nonprofit that researches and funds education and employment pathways.

This installment of the nationally representative weekly survey of 1,000 adults was conducted on April 8-9.

The job impact appears to be most felt by millennials, according to the survey. This group and Generation X were more likely to report losing work or pay, the survey found, and to say they would need more education or training to replace a lost job (see below).

“Millennials reported the greatest career impact of the crisis so far — the same generation that faced the Great Recession during their early careers,” Dave Clayton, Ph.D., senior vice president at the Strada Center for Consumer Insights, said in a written statement. “In the coming weeks, we are paying close attention to how demographic and geographic differences in the data may surface new insights into how we chart a path forward.”

For example, 61 percent of millennial respondents said they have either lost jobs or had their hours or income reduced, compared to 55 percent of respondents over all.

The survey also found that 70 percent of adults believe the effects of the crisis on them personally will not last longer than six months. One-third believe they will need more education to find a comparable job if they lose theirs. And Gen Xers and Millennials were most likely to say that if they lost their job, they would need more education to maintain their current wage or salary.

— Paul Fain

April 15, 11:15 a.m. A canceled or altered fall college football season could put $4.1 billion in 2020-21 fiscal year revenue at risk for the more than 50 institutions in the Power Five conferences, funds that account for more than 60 percent of the total annual operating revenue of those colleges or universities, according to a USA Today analysis of National Collegiate Athletic Association financial reports.

Athletic department income from tickets and other game day sales, in addition to television, radio and digital rights, and sponsorship deals would vanish or be hit hard if the upcoming football season were to be completely canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic threat, the newspaper reported.

Athletics operations also would save about $520 million total for Power Five institutions for unspent player and coach expenses, including for other fall sports. But USA Today’s analysis calculated a net loss of more than $3.3 billion if no football season occurs. Surveys and media reports show athletic directors are increasingly concerned about the fate of the upcoming sports season.

— Greta Anderson

DeVos Announces $3 Billion in Education Grants to States

April 14, 2:55 p.m. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that the Education Department will quickly provide $3 billion in federal education block grants to state governors. The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, which is authorized by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act stimulus, is a flexible emergency block grant governors can spend on K-12 and postsecondary education.

“Governors have the opportunity to truly rethink and transform the approach to education during this national emergency and ensure learning continues,” DeVos said in a written statement. “I want to encourage each and every governor to focus on continuity of education for all students. Parents, families, teachers and other local education leaders are depending on their leadership to ensure students don’t fall behind.”

The department said it has attempted to make the application process as easy as possible, requiring only that colleges and schools email a brief application PDF to [email protected]. Instructions for the application can be found here. Once states submit the PDF, the department said it expects to release the funds within three business days.

— Paul Fain

Moody’s: Grim Picture for State Budgets

April 14, 2:35 p.m. In an analysis with implications for higher education, a Moody’s Analytics analysis released Tuesday found many states are facing having to make budget cuts in the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Even under a recession having a moderate impact on the recovery, in which travel and business restrictions last through August, the analysis found that “21 states may have to go through the painful process of filling budget holes of 10 percent or more even after using all of their available reserve balances.”

But if disruptions continue for longer, Moody’s estimated the number of states having to fill large budget holes would balloon to 34.

Either would be bad news for colleges and universities already facing their own financial problems caused by the pandemic, experts say, because states often look toward higher education to make budget cuts because of restrictions on reducing other areas of their budgets.

Most affected are states relying on volatile revenue streams like oil and gas taxes, as well as those relying on industries like tourism, finance and energy. Among the hardest hit are Alaska, Louisiana and New Jersey.

On the bright side, more states had been stocking away money in reserves. “State governments in the aggregate have never been more prepared for a downturn than they are at this moment,” Moody’s said.

Seventeen states have reserves large enough to absorb the shorter period of disruptions with relatively minor fiscal difficulty, according to the analysis. But that number would drop to three — Wyoming, New Mexico and Alaska — if disruptions last longer.

— Kery Murakami

What Happens to Swim Tests in a Pandemic?

April 14, 2:30 p.m. At some colleges, students are required to complete swim tests or other physical tests to graduate.

The vestiges of those traditions have now gone virtual at many institutions due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Bloomberg.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology created two online classes for its physical education requirement, as well as an online program that teaches water safety and swimming basics so that students can fulfill the swim test requirement.

Other institutions have scrapped the swim test requirement altogether for seniors who hadn’t yet completed it. Some, like Swarthmore College, are asking graduating seniors to fulfill the swim test remotely within one year.

— Madeline St. Amour​

University of Cincinnati Cuts Soccer Program

April 14, 1:45 p.m. Citing budget constraints, the University of Cincinnati is discontinuing its men’s soccer program effective immediately.

Student athletes on the men’s soccer team who were receiving athletic scholarships will continue to receive the funds for the remainder of their undergraduate careers, according to John Cunningham, director of athletics at the university.

The college plans to help those who wish to transfer to a different institution so they can continue playing soccer.

“This difficult decision involved a tremendous amount of thought regarding the young men who chose UC to pursue their degrees and their dreams of playing NCAA Division I soccer,” Cunningham wrote in a letter to the community. “They have worked extremely hard on the field of play and in the classroom and have represented UC the right way.”

— Madeline St. Amour

Survey: Parents Concerned About the Fall

April 14, 10:45 a.m. Parents of college-bound students are worried about the fall.

A survey from Brian Communications and Dynata asked 405 parents of high school seniors earlier this month about their feelings on college, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Forty percent of respondents said the pandemic might delay their child going to college.

Another 60 percent said they haven’t received any information from institutions about how they plan to ensure students’ safety during the next academic year. Most — 85 percent — said they want to know more about how colleges are preparing.

While the pandemic might not delay enrollment for everyone, 40 percent of parents said they now want their child to attend an institution closer to home. Sixty-five percent are now more worried about the financial impacts of tuition because of COVID-19.

“The incoming freshman class is the lifeblood of a healthy university or college,” said Brian Tierney, CEO of Brian Communications. “What we’re seeing in this survey indicates that parents of graduating seniors have deep concerns connected to this outbreak that could threaten the long-term viability of institutions if they don’t respond in the near term.”

— Madeline St. Amour

Oklahoma U Mulls Staying Online Through Fall and Next Spring

April 14, 8:35 a.m. Joseph Harroz Jr., Oklahoma University’s interim president, in a virtual address to the Faculty Senate on Monday said the university was considering several options for resuming in-person courses, including one scenario where the university would remain online through the coming fall and spring semesters, reported Nick Hazelrigg, a former Inside Higher Ed reporter and editor in chief of the OU Daily, a student newspaper.

The three options cited by Harroz, a former general counsel at OU, included resuming in-person courses in the fall, resuming them in the spring or remaining online only through the remainder of the university’s following academic year. The university previously moved to online instruction through July. Harroz also said for the first time that employee furloughs were on the table.

“This is a lot of scenario planning. We don’t have a lot of certainty,” Harroz said, according to the newspaper.

— Paul Fain

Utah Supreme Court Considering a Bar Exam Workaround

April 13, 4:30 p.m. The Utah Supreme Court has proposed a temporary emergency measure that would allow qualified recent law school graduates to practice law without taking the state bar exam.

“The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted ordinary life in a seemingly infinite number of ways,” the court said in a statement reported by the Deseret News. “At present, the court cannot guarantee the bar’s ability to safely administer the examination in July. Nor is the court in a position to predict when it may be able to offer the examination.”

Under the proposed measure, students would need to have submitted an application for the bar exam on or before April 1, 2020, in order to qualify to practice without taking the bar exam. Only students graduating this spring from an American Bar Association-accredited law school with an 86 percent first-time bar exam pass rate who have completed 360 hours of supervised legal practice and have never taken a U.S. bar exam would be eligible.

The law schools at Brigham Young University and the University of Utah are among those that have first-time bar pass rates above 86 percent.

— Lilah Burke

Emergency Funds for International Students

April 13, 3:45 p.m. The Institute of International Education Inc. has started an emergency student fund to help international students who cannot return home over the summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

IIE member institutions in the United States can nominate international students for a grant of up to $2,500, according to a news release.

Each member can nominate up to five students to receive the funds for living and health-related expenses. Institutions should choose one person on campus to submit the nominations.

Participating institutions are expected to also provide support for these students through housing, tuition waivers, scholarships or other resources.

The deadline is April 26.

— Madeline St. Amour

Indiana University Can Borrow $1 Billion

April 13, 2:45 p.m. Trustees at Indiana University gave unanimous approval for the institution to borrow up to $1 billion in the next year for potential costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a meeting Friday, the trustees discussed potential scenarios that would require the university to borrow, according to Chuck Carney, spokesman for Indiana. 

For example, if the university has to delay the start of fall classes and doesn’t receive tuition payments in the normal time frame, it could use the line of credit to cover revenue shortfalls from the delay.

“Basically, it was just done as a prudent measure against what may come in the future,” Carney said.

The university has not yet borrowed any money. The possible scenarios could mean Indiana needs to borrow up to $600 million, he said, but the institution’s good credit rating would let them get a line of credit for up to $1 billion.

— Madeline St. Amour

Boston University Plans for Possibility of Delayed Fall Term

April 12, 10:45 a.m. Boston University is planning for the possibility that the start of the fall term might need to be delayed until January 2021, “in which case summer 2021 academics would replace those now planned for fall 2020.” BU acknowledged the possibility in announcing the development of a universitywide COVID-19 Recovery Plan and the formation of five working groups focused on questions of remote and online working, graduate and professional programs, undergraduate programs, research, and student residential life.

In an article on its website, BU said the goal of the recovery plan is to define “what a residential research university will look like in the early days of the post-pandemic world … Ultimately, the plan seeks answers to such questions as what classes might look like if gatherings are restricted to a limited number of people and how Dining Services could operate without risk of transmitting the coronavirus.”

“The recovery plan is an organizational approach to achieving our goals,” said Jean Morrison, BU’s provost and chief academic officer. “It allows us to task certain individuals with developing specific recommendations. It is designed to expedite decision-making and allow us to put a plan for the fall in place fairly quickly, so we have time to implement that plan in a thoughtful manner. By launching this effort now, we get out ahead of some of the issues for what is the best-case scenario, meaning we are able to come back to in-person classes and activities in the fall.”

In its announcement, BU also said its recovery plan “accepts the possibility that international students are likely to face unique burdens, such as travel restrictions and interruptions in the processing of visas, and it suggests that some popular master’s programs may have to be offered remotely.”​

– Elizabeth Redden

Governors Call for $500 Billion in Federal Aid

April 11, 1:56 p.m.​​ The governors of Maryland and New York on Saturday made a bipartisan request for $500 billion from the federal government to meet budgetary shortfalls resulting from the pandemic and financial crisis. Some of those shortfalls are certain to be passed on to public colleges and universities in most states, under current financial projections.

Stay-at-home orders and other aggressive measures are helping to slow the spread of the virus, but those preventative moves are resulting in catastrophic damage to state revenue, wrote Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, and Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York. Hogan chairs the National Governors Association, and Cuomo is the group’s vice chair.

“Despite this grave challenge, the recently passed federal CARES Act contained zero funding to offset these drastic state revenue shortfalls. To stabilize state budgets and to make sure states have the resources to battle the virus and provide the services the American people rely on, Congress must provide immediate fiscal assistance directly to all states,” they wrote. “We must be allowed to use any state stabilization funds for replacement of lost revenue, and these funds should not be tied to only COVID-19 related expenses. Congress must amend the CARES Act to allow this flexibility for existing federal funding.”

The U.S. Congress must appropriate $500 billion for all U.S. states and territories to help cover budget holes, the two governors said. And those funds should be separate from much-needed federal money for local governments.

“In the absence of unrestricted fiscal support of at least $500 billion from the federal government, states will have to confront the prospect of significant reductions to critically important services all across this country, hampering public health, the economic recovery and — in turn — our collective effort to get people back to work,” wrote Hogan and Cuomo.

— Paul Fain

Students File Class Action Seeking Tuition Reimbursement

April 10, 5:05 p.m. ​Students attending Miami and Drexel Universities are trying to take their respective institutions to court, arguing they should be reimbursed for costs including tuition after campuses closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a significant development in the tensions over how much students who had been studying on campuses should pay for a semester suddenly upended by social distancing and classes shifting to online or remote instruction. Many colleges and universities have been offering refunds of fees, room and board. But leaders have generally resisted tuition refunds, often arguing that they are still delivering the core educational product for which tuition pays.

The Miami and Drexel students filed class-action lawsuits Wednesday in federal Court in South Carolina, Law360 reported. They’re being represented by a law firm based in the same state, Anastopoulo Law Firm LLC.

Students allege breach of contract and unjust enrichment. They seek unspecified damages, fees and costs.

They argue the universities prevented students from receiving the benefits of learning in person when they temporarily closed campus. The institutions are “still offering some level of academic instruction via online classes,” but students are nonetheless being deprived certain benefits, they argued.

The students argue that they chose to attend particular institutions based on advertising promoting on-campus experiences. In addition to instruction, tuition covers other services like computer labs, libraries and networking opportunities, they argued.

“Moreover, the value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes will be diminished,” student complaints said, according to Law360.

— Rick Seltzer

Civil Liberties Groups Push Title IX Rule Release

April 10, 12:37 p.m. Two civil liberties groups have urged the U.S. Department of Education not to delay the release of proposed regulations under Title IX, the law prohibiting sex discrimination in institutions that receive federal funding, despite institutions’ occupation with the coronavirus pandemic.

The shift of colleges to primarily online operations means it is “an ideal time” for officials to change their policies to be in compliance with new Title IX regulations, the leaders of Speech First, a campus free speech organization, and the Independent Women’s Law Center, which advocates for reduced government control, wrote in a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Assistant Secretary Kenneth Marcus. The letter called attempts to delay the final regulations, which were proposed in November 2018, “a disingenuous attempt to put off indefinitely the implementation of rules that certain senators and special interest groups oppose on the merits.”

Several members of Congress and state attorneys general have called on DeVos to delay the final rule, suggesting that institutions are putting all efforts toward the basic needs of students during the coronavirus pandemic. But waiting on the rule would mean “biased investigatory procedures that stack the deck against the accused” will continue for students in the Title IX process at colleges, the letter said.

“All stakeholders in America’s institutions of higher education — from students and parents to faculty and administrators — deserve a just system, and they deserve it now,” Nicole Neily, president and founder of Speech First, said in a release. “At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has created much uncertainty in the education community, the department can provide clarity with respect to Title IX by issuing the regulations as soon as possible.”

— Greta Anderson

AAMC Wants Better COVID-19 Data Collection Because of Health Disparities

April 10,12:11 p.m. The Association of American Medical Colleges is calling for a national standardized data collection system to accurately capture information about race, ethnicity, social conditions and environmental conditions affecting the spread of illness.

That call comes in light of the coronavirus pandemic laying bare social, economic and health inequities, the AAMC said in a news release. The association went on to recommend capturing community-level data showing the neighborhoods to which COVID-19 patients are discharged, because county and zip code data are not specific enough to capture communities likely to be affected.

Those on the forefront of the pandemic response, such as state health departments, local public health departments, private testing labs and hospitals, should be engaged to prevent systems from becoming unnecessarily burdened, according to the AAMC.

“While health inequities related to COVID-19 are most certainly developing in real-time, the fact is that our current data collection efforts are inadequate and do not give us a complete picture,” Dr. Ross McKinney, AAMC chief scientific officer, said in a statement.

AAMC leaders added that better data on the current outbreak will enable officials to prevent additional catastrophic outcomes for vulnerable communities experiencing health disparities.

“Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans, the poor, the homeless, immigrants, and people who are incarcerated find themselves with fewer economic resources and with physical health conditions that make them and their communities more vulnerable to illnesses like COVID-19,” said Dr. David A. Acosta, AAMC chief diversity and inclusion officer, in a statement.

Members of the association include all 155 accredited U.S. medical schools, 17 accredited Canadian medical schools, almost 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems, and over 80 academic societies.

— Rick Seltzer

Survey: Challenges for Online Tutoring Programs

April 10, 11:08 a.m.​ Results from a survey conducted by Primary Research Group show how colleges have moved their tutoring programs online. The 32 respondents, primarily tutoring program directors from U.S. colleges and universities, described problems in training student tutors. They also provided details about the software their institutions are using in online tutoring and the extent of those programs.

Survey participants estimated that a mean of 38 percent of their students have more trouble taking online courses and may require extra support, according to the report from the research firm. The survey found that roughly 90 percent of participating institutions had moved all their courses to some form of online delivery. But only about 28 percent of respondents from private colleges said their institutions had an online tutoring program in place before the pandemic.

The survey also found that 72 percent of tutors at community colleges were working from home, the lowest amount among sectors covered by the research.

— Paul Fain

Higher Ed Groups Call for $47 Billion in Federal Aid

April 9, 5:55 p.m. ​Colleges and universities need a $46.6 billion infusion from Congress to “at least partially restore institutions,” wrote 41 education groups to congressional leaders.

To come up with the figure, the groups estimated that an additional $12 billion is necessary for need-based financial aid because more students and their families will see a reduction in their wages.

Another $11.6 billion is needed to make up losses in revenue from auxiliary services like residence halls, food services, bookstores and health and recreation facilities. The groups conservatively estimated that institutions will see a 25 percent decline in revenue from those services, which brought in $44.6 billion in 2017.

The groups, including the American Council on Education and other associations representing higher education institutions, estimated a 15 percent drop in overall student enrollment in the next academic year, including a 25 percent decline in international student enrollment. Combined, that would mean another $23 billion in revenue, said the letter written by Ted Mitchell, ACE’s president, on behalf of the groups.

The letter comes as Congress haggles over passing another coronavirus rescue package. The requested amount would be far more than the $14 billion allocated to higher education in the $2 trillion package Congress passed two weeks ago.

“In order to address these urgent needs, it is necessary for the federal government to provide these critical funds to students and campuses as rapidly as possible,” Mitchell wrote.

— Kery Murakami

Survey: Students Worried About Switch to Online

April 9, 5:10 p.m. Many college students are worried about the switch to remote learning, according to a survey from Barnes & Noble Education.

The survey, conducted during the week of March 23, found that 64 percent of respondents were concerned about maintaining focus and discipline for their courses after moving online. A little over half are worried about losing their normal social interactions, and 45 percent are concerned about getting good grades. A smaller portion of respondents — about 12 percent — are worried their internet access isn’t good enough for online learning.

On the upside, about 60 percent feel at least somewhat prepared for the switch. Those with previous experience taking online courses feel more confident than others.

Most respondents also agreed that their colleges and instructors are prepared for the switch, but about one-quarter are doubtful about their institutions’ preparedness.

“While the switch to online learning is a massive adjustment for all parties involved, we need to remember that many of today’s students are digital natives, and they are generally well-equipped to handle digital materials and tools,” Lisa Malat, president of Barnes & Noble College, said in the release. “However, this abrupt change in lifestyle has also had social and emotional impacts on students, and many are grappling with how to succeed academically in the midst of this disruption. We’ve seen colleges, universities, faculty and family members all providing the resources they can to ease this transition. With the right structure and support in place, students may ultimately find that this way of learning works better for them, as it allows them to go more at their own pace.”

— Madeline St. Amour​

Movement to Forgive Health Care Workers’ Student Debt

April 9, 5:05 p.m. Consuelo López-Morillas​, a professor emerita at Indiana University, Bloomington, started a petition asking lawmakers to cancel student loan debt for doctors, nurses and health care professionals who are responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 385,000 people have signed on since it launched last week.

“Health professionals carry crushing loads of student debt, from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now they are like soldiers in war, saving lives while risking their own and protecting the rest of us, and many have already died while doing their duty,” Lopez-Morillas wrote in the petition. “Without the debt burden more would work in lower-paying specialties like family practice, or in underserved rural and urban areas. Society would benefit both in health and economically for many years to come, just as America benefited from the GI Bill.”

Today, Carolyn Maloney, a congresswoman from New York, said she will introduce legislation to do just that. The so-called Student Debt Forgiveness for Frontline Health Care Workers Act would eliminate graduate school debt for health care workers who are providing care in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It would include recent graduates and professionals who are still paying off their loans.

“Medical professionals in hospitals and other medical settings are operating in extraordinarily difficult and dangerous circumstances to provide care for critically ill COVID-19 patients and protect our communities. New York City has been hit particularly hard in the pandemic, and many other areas of the country are beginning to experience surges in patients with COVID-19 symptoms, putting great stress on health care institutions and their employees. The least we can do to recognize their service is to forgive their graduate student loan debt so that they are not forced to worry about their financial wellbeing in addition to their health and the health of their families while they respond to a public health emergency,” Maloney said in a news release.

— Madeline St. Amour​

Stimulus Money Coming Soon, DeVos Says

April 9, 3:15 p.m. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave colleges and universities some assurance they will soon get their share of the coronavirus relief package, telling reporters the department is working to make available more information on the release of the money in two weeks.

“The department, at the secretary’s urging, is working to make funds available as quickly as possible,” an Education Department news release said.

DeVos also announced the department is immediately releasing $6 billion contained in the package to institutions to pay for emergency grants to students.

However, DeVos left up in the air a key question institutions are anxious to have answered: How can they use their share of the package?

The $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package set aside $14 billion for higher education, with half going to help institutions with the cost of dealing with the epidemic. The other half will go to emergency grants for students who need help with costs like computers for online learning, food, housing and transportation.

But institutions have been anxious to know if they can use their share of the money to reimburse what they’ve already spent to help students or on other coronavirus-related costs as virtually all have shifted to online learning.

“It is critical for the department to provide campuses with as much flexibility as possible for distributing these funds on campus, both for emergency grants to students and to help cover institutional refunds, expenses and other lost revenues,” Ted Mitchell, the American Council on Education’s president, wrote to DeVos last week on behalf of other higher education associations and groups.

During a call with reporters, DeVos said the department is still mulling those details.

“At the end of the day, [do] we wish the money [for institutions] was coming out now? You bet. But the department is doing the best it can,” said Terry Hartle, ACE’s senior vice president for government and public affair​s.

DeVos also was vague about possible requirements on how institutions dole out the emergency grants. But she said the department wants the money to first go to “the most disadvantaged with the greatest needs for support.”

She declined to say when the department will issue the much-anticipated and controversial Title IX rule, which will change how institutions handle allegations of sexual assault and harassment. College leaders and Democratic lawmakers have urged DeVos to hold off on issuing the rule at a time when institutions are busy dealing with the pandemic.

“We are sensitive to the situation,” DeVos said. “But we also have to acknowledge that Title IX investigations continue to happen.”

Higher education groups did not have an immediate reaction to DeVos’s remarks on the stimulus funding. They have been frustrated that the department hasn’t been able to say when the money would be available. A Republican Senate education committee aide said the measure only recently passed and characterized the complaints as “whining.”

Mitchell in his letter urged DeVos to get the money to campuses quickly. “This crisis is causing massive disruption to students, institutional operations and institutional finances. On some campuses, it is creating an existential threat, potentially resulting in closures … I fear this funding will be for naught for many institutions unless the department can act very quickly to make these funds available,” the letter said.

— Kery Murakami​

Education Department Releases Stimulus Distribution List

April 9, 2:56 p.m. The U.S. Department of Education has released its plan for distributing $14 billion of the federal stimulus to colleges and universities. The list of planned allocations for each institution can be found here.

In a letter to college leaders, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said $12.56 billion of that amount will be distributed to colleges based on an enrollment formula. At least 50 percent of the amount each college receives must go to students as emergency aid grants to help cover campus expenses related to disruptions caused by the pandemic, she said.

The department said the $6.28 billion for emergency aid is available today.

The CARES Act stimulus features significant discretion on how institutions award the emergency aid, said DeVos, who encouraged college leaders to prioritize students with the greatest needs.

“This means that each institution may develop its own system and process for determining how to allocate these funds, which may include distributing the funds to all students or only to students who demonstrate significant need,” DeVos said. “The only statutory requirement is that the funds be used to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus (including eligible expenses under a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and child care).”

— Paul Fain​

More Than a Dozen West Virginia U Students Test Positive

April 9, 2:20 p.m. Local public health officials told West Virginia University that more than a dozen students had tested positive for COVID-19, the university reported Wednesday. West Virginia said in a press release that while investigations and contact tracing are ongoing, “it is believed 14 students returned to private, off-campus residences upon returning to Morgantown,” the city where WVU is located. WVU campuses have been closed since March 20, and the university said there is no indication the students have been on campus.

“We cannot reiterate enough that students need to be taking this virus seriously and follow all of executive orders issued by Gov. Jim Justice as well as health precaution guidelines outlined by our local health officials,” WVU dean of students Corey Farris said in a statement. “To not do so is putting not only your fellow students’ health at risk, but the health and well-being of our entire Morgantown community.”​

— Elizabeth Redden​

Higher Education’s Role in a Federal Jobs Bill

April 9, 12:30 p.m. Another 6.6 million Americans filed unemployment claims last week, the Labor Department reported, bringing the unprecedented total job loss amid the pandemic to 17 million in less than a month.

As federal lawmakers mull another stimulus plan, some are advocating an ambitious jobs bill. Mary Alice McCarthy, for example, calls for a 21st-century version of the Works Progress Administration, which put millions back to work during the Great Depression.

“The WPA employed nearly nine million Americans over its eight-year tenure and is widely credited with bringing unemployment under control during the Great Depression,” writes McCarthy, a former official at the Labor and Education Departments during the Obama administration, and currently director of the Center on Education and Skills with the education policy program at New America. “Growing the ranks of the public sector workforce by that number today may not be politically feasible, but a well-crafted federal infrastructure investment that channels money to state and local governments and, through them, to local businesses and nonprofits, could stem the tide of mass unemployment and its many negative effects on individuals, families and communities.”

The last recession showed that new jobs typically required higher levels of education, McCarthy said. But many displaced workers were unable to enroll in a college or another postsecondary training program before going back to work.

A new jobs bill could help solve that problem, she wrote.

“A direct federal investment in new jobs could integrate education and training with paid work, by subsidizing apprenticeships or paying the wages of new hires while they attend college,” McCarthy said. “Educational investments, including much-needed funding for higher education and federal student aid programs like the Pell Grant, could then be targeted squarely on helping Americans who want to complete a college degree, afford it.”

— Paul Fain​

Annual Developer Challenge to Focus on COVID-19

April 9, 11:00 a.m. IBM’s annual competition that calls on software developers to create solutions to global problems is focusing on COVID-19 this year.

The 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge University Edition will kick off April 22, and the submission deadline is July 31, according to a news release. Students will have access to COVID-19 starter kits, or they can design their own solution.

IBM is partnering with Clinton Global Initiative University to run the university edition of the competition.

Students will have access to virtual workshops, codeathons and office hours throughout the process. IBM will work with the teams who create promising solutions to build, fortify, test and deploy them through IBM Code and Response.

The grand prize is $10,000. The winning team, as well as the runner-up, will have the opportunity to interview for a role at IBM.

— Madeline St. Amour

Arizona Withdraws Funded Graduate Offers

April 8, 3:00 a.m. The University of Arizona is withdrawing funding packages to accepted graduate students who have not yet committed to the institution. The philosophy blog Daily Nous first reported the news, as it pertains to Arizona’s philosophy department.

Chris Sigurdson, university spokesperson, said via email Wednesday evening that the policy applies to the entire institution. Given the “unanticipated financial pressures brought to bear by the coronavirus crisis, we wanted to give potential graduate students who had not yet accepted our offer the opportunity to make other plans if they chose,” he said.

The policy does not apply to funding based on grants or scholarships. Accepted students may still choose to enroll, but with limited or no financial support.

“Our goal to protect our current graduate students from potential losses of funding and we needed to limit outstanding financial offers to ensure that,” Sigurdson said.

— Colleen Flaherty

CUNY Starts Emergency Fund for Coronavirus Relief

April 8, 4:05 p.m. The City University of New York has launched an emergency relief fund for students who need financial help due to the coronavirus crisis.

The Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund will distribute grants of $500 each to thousands of CUNY students. The Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation and the James and Judith K. Dimon Foundation have provided initial gifts of $1 million each for the fund, which is the first of its kind at CUNY. Several other corporate sponsors have given an additional $1.25 million.

CUNY hopes to raise $10 million over the next few months for the fund.

About 275,000 CUNY students come from households with median annual incomes of about $40,000, and 38 percent come from families earning less than $20,000. Nearly half of CUNY students work while attending college.

Students will begin receiving the grants the week of April 20. They will be chosen by lottery from a group of about 14,000 students who met financial need and academic criteria. CUNY hopes to provide more grants in the coming months as it raises funds.

“The coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating economic impact on many of our students, and this unprecedented emergency fund will provide rapid-response financial support to those who need it most,” Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, CUNY’s chancellor, said in a statement.

CUNY has also bought 30,000 computers and tablets for students who need them to participate in distance learning. About 1,600 CUNY community college students received $400 for food, and 117 foster-care students in a CUNY initiative will receive $425 emergency grants.

— Madeline St. Amour

Law Schools and Coronavirus: Bar Exemptions and More

April 8, 1:39 p.m. The American Bar Association’s Board of Governors passed a policy resolution this week urging state licensing authorities to allow 2019 and 2020 law graduates who can’t take the July bar exam to practice law in a limited capacity. Some jurisdictions already have canceled the July administration of the test due to COVID-19.

Graduates of ABA-approved law schools may practice “under the supervision of a licensed attorney if the July bar exam in their jurisdiction is canceled or postponed due to public health and safety concerns arising from the coronavirus pandemic,” the ABA announced, summarizing the policy recommendation. The proposal applies only to first-time bar takers and would enable them to practice through 2021 without taking the exam.

“By justifiably postponing bar examinations, states are protecting law students and the public’s health, but the lives and careers of law graduates are being adversely affected,” Judy Perry Martinez, ABA’s president, said in a statement. “This guidance for an emergency law graduate rule will not only help the recent law graduates work within the legal sector in a meaningful way, but also will add more people to help address the increase in legal needs for individuals and businesses caused by this pandemic.”

How are law schools handling the transition to remote instruction? The Primary Research Group published a survey of law school faculty and staff members on distance legal education. Forty-three percent of faculty members surveyed preferred to deliver course content using Zoom or other group meetings, while 31 percent preferred course management systems. Fifteen percent of professors delivered lectures through downloadable video links, asynchronously, and 22 percent set up a chat forum for their classes.

— Colleen Flaherty

Debt Relief for 300,000 Private Borrowers in N.Y.

April 8, 10:02 a.m. Andrew Cuomo, New York’s Democratic governor, announced the state will offer relief to 300,000 borrowers who took out private student loans. Those borrowers were excluded from the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus bill, which allowed most other student loan borrowers to avoid making payments for six months, without interest. Senator Elizabeth Warren and 11 of her colleagues this week wrote to private student loan companies to call on them to offer help to borrowers.

In an agreement the state reached with Navient, Nelnet and other lenders that comprise 90 percent of private student loan lenders, borrowers who face financial hardship due to the pandemic may contact their student loan servicer to defer payments for 90 days and receive other relief, including no late payment fees and no negative data reported to credit bureau agencies.

As many as 300,000 New Yorkers may get help with loans under the agreement.

“At a time where many are suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19 it is imperative that all regulated industries work with consumers to provide relief,” Linda A. Lacewell, superintendent of the state’s Department of Financial Services, said in a statement. “We appreciate the largest student loan servicers and lenders in New York and the nation stepping forward with a thoughtful plan to help New York student loan borrowers.”

The announcement follows New York’s move to temporarily halt collection of student debt owed to the state and referred to the attorney general for collection, for at least a 30-day period.

— Paul Fain

Research Institutions Ask for $26 Billion

April 7, 5:50 p.m. Three national associations representing colleges and universities urged Congress on Tuesday to appropriate $26 billion in emergency funding for research universities, medical schools and teaching hospitals affected by the coronavirus epidemic. In part, the money is needed to keep paying for graduate students, researchers and others who have had to stop their federally funded work during the pandemic.

“Much of our nation’s research workforce is effectively idled due to closed laboratories and severely limited research activities. While some are repurposing their efforts to aid in the fight against COVID-19 or attempting to analyze existing data and making other attempts at telework, for many more their federally supported research is delayed or will be set back because they are unable to access their laboratories and research facilities,” the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Association of American Universities, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the American Council on Education wrote in a letter to congressional leaders.

In addition, the research institutions are facing the costs of ramping down their facilities, including disposing of hazardous wastes, the letter said. They will also incur more costs when they are able to resume operations.

“Given the current shutdown of many university-based and national laboratories due to the pandemic, we are deeply concerned that the people who comprise the research workforce — graduate students, postdocs, principal investigators, and technical support staff — and the future health and strength of the U.S. research enterprise, are at risk,” the letter said.

Congress, which passed a $2 trillion stimulus package two weeks ago, is expected to take up another package when it returns from recess later this month.

— Kery Murakami

Call for Lottery-Style College Admissions

April 7, 4:50 p.m. Many colleges and universities have gone test optional in college admissions amid the coronavirus crisis, which also is wreaking havoc with large numbers of high school transcripts.

That combination likely means admissions staff members at selective colleges will have “extraordinary discretion” in making decisions about whom to admit, writes Rick Hess,

“Unleashed from the discipline imposed by an applicant’s grades, test scores and demonstrated accomplishment, college officials and admissions staff may be tempted to favor applicants with deep-pocketed parents, those who reflect their own personal or political biases, and those able to assemble a compelling file even when the world is in pieces (read: the privileged and connected),” he wrote in Forbes.

Hess called for an unprecedented experiment to try to level the playing field in admissions: a lottery-style process where applicants need only have a high school diploma or equivalent. It’s not the first time Hess has proposed such a solution, which also has been suggested by New America.

“College admissions are a complicated, fraught challenge in the best of times. And these are not the best of times,” wrote Hess. “If colleges are going to struggle to judge students fairly, in any event, it just may be time to try another approach to admissions — and to make a virtue out of necessity.”

— Paul Fain

Outbreak Hurts Higher Ed Worldwide for Next Year, Moody’s Says

April 7, 2:11 p.m. Moody’s Investors Service expects the coronavirus outbreak to have a negative effect on higher education worldwide for the next year, it said in a report out today.

Universities will face lower student demand and lost income, according to the bond ratings agency. Public institutions in the United States are at higher risk than others around the world in part because of the potential for government funding cuts. Lower investment income could also affect U.S. universities disproportionately because investment income is a higher percentage of income for U.S. universities than it is for others around the globe.

“We expect rated universities in all of our current jurisdictions — U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, Singapore and Mexico — to enroll fewer students for the next academic year than planned, due to the outbreak,” said Jeanne Harrison, vice president and senior analyst at Moody’s, in a statement. “In addition, if campuses remain closed for part of the year, income from residence halls, catering, conferences and sporting events will be lower than budgeted. Endowment and gift income may also decline.”

Ramifications for college and university credit quality depends on how long the outbreak lasts, Moody’s said. If campuses can reopen for the upcoming academic year, damage to demand and institutional budgets will be manageable.

Also important to watch are international student flows, which will depend largely on conditions within individual countries. Most universities Moody’s rates rely heavily on Chinese students, who are 23 percent of international students globally.

— Rick Seltzer

Democrats Call for Relief for Private Loan Borrowers

April 7, 12:29 p.m. Senator Elizabeth Warren and 11 other Democratic and Independent senators have written to student loan companies to urge them to offer help to borrowers with private student loans.

Private loan borrowers were left out of the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus bill, which allowed most other student loan borrowers to skip making payments for six months without interest. Congress also suspended involuntary collections of late payments, like garnishing wages, tax refunds and Social Security benefits. In addition to suspending payments for an unspecified “parallel” amount of time to what other borrowers received, the senators urged the 14 companies in the letters to not seize payments, to discharge as many loans as possible of borrowers in bankruptcy or fiscal distress and to expand loan modification and affordable repayment options.

The Student Loan Servicing Alliance last week said nearly all private lenders are offering borrowers up to a three-month suspension from making payments.

The letter urges companies to cancel or discharge as many delinquent loans as possible during the crisis, especially for borrowers who have filed for bankruptcy or who are otherwise in clear financial distress that will inhibit their ability to ever fully repay their loans. It also calls for the companies to permanently provide additional, affordable repayment and loan modification options for private student loan borrowers, including options for borrowers who see long-term changes in their income.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 has resulted in an unprecedented and widespread public health and economic crisis, significantly upending life for every American,” the lawmakers wrote. “For private student loan borrowers, these economic disruptions will be uniquely devastating due to private student loan borrowers’ lack of critical protections, forgiveness programs, and repayment options available to federal student loan borrowers.”

In addition to Warren, of Massachusetts, the letters were signed by Senators Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, Massachusetts’ Edward Markey, California’s Kamala Harris, Hawaii’s Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, Illinois’s Richard Durbin, Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen, New Jersey’s Cory Booker, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders.

— Kery Murakami

China Offers Help to Students in U.S., for a Price

April 7, 11:16 a.m. The Chinese government plans to send chartered planes to help Chinese students in the U.S. return home during the coronavirus pandemic.

The catch? Students will have to pay for the flights, as well as the costs for quarantining for 14 days upon arrival in China, according to the South China Morning Post.

The government has become cautious about bringing students back home who could possibly bring the coronavirus with them.

About 400,000 Chinese students are studying in the United States. A recent online survey found that nearly 60 percent of those students want to return home, according to the Post.

— Madeline St. Amour

College Presidents Expect Layoffs, Admissions Trouble

April 7, 11:05 a.m. A survey of 285 college presidents found that most are planning employee layoffs in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

ABC Insights conducted the survey with help from the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the rpk Group. It received responses from presidents across all institution types and sizes.

About 75 percent of presidents said they are preparing to “hunker down” as the coronavirus spreads. Seventy-two percent said they plan to lay off staff, with many expecting to cut administrative costs.

These plans were fairly consistent among institutions. Two-year college presidents were more likely to say they plan to hunker down, and those at small universities were more likely to say they plan to lay people off.

Most respondents — 64 percent — said they anticipate moderate scenarios stemming from this crisis. About 70 percent of presidents expect to see revenue decline by at least 10 percent, with presidents of small institutions expecting a larger hit. Financial issues and enrollment declines are the main sources of worry, according to the survey.

— Madeline St. Amour

Survey: Prospective Students Rethink the Fall

April 7, 10:25 a.m. A new poll has found that high school seniors are rethinking whether they will enroll in college in the fall due to the novel coronavirus.

About one in six prospective students who are considering enrolling in four-year colleges are near the point of giving up on attending in the fall, according to an Art and Science Group survey that received roughly 500 responses. About 17 percent of respondents said they are likely to change their college plans and instead take a gap year next year or attend a program part-time.

Two-thirds of graduating seniors are concerned they will have to change their first-choice college due to the pandemic. About 21 percent said their families may no longer be able to afford their first-choice college because of the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

But the global health crisis might also be changing students’ perspective of online learning. Nearly half of the respondents said that, because of the coronavirus, they are more interested in taking an online program or course during their higher education experience.

— Madeline St. Amour

Fitch Predicts Stimulus Won’t Match Coronavirus Costs for Colleges

April 6, 3:58 p.m. Another bond ratings agency is predicting that the recently signed federal stimulus package will not provide enough relief to colleges and universities to offset the combination of revenue being lost and expenses that are increasing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The higher education sector is experiencing prorated declines in some student fees along with an increase in operating expenses driven in part by the shift to online learning, Fitch Ratings said in a note released today. That puts the most pressure on institutions with relatively less liquidity, low margins and difficulty balancing their budgets, as well as residential colleges that rely heavily on revenue from student fees.

“Many institutions are evaluating expense reduction actions, including support-staff layoffs or furloughs,” Fitch said in its note. “Higher-rated institutions with strong financial cushions should have sufficient resources to cover budget gaps at least through the end of the 2020 fiscal year.”

Fitch also provides estimates on how $14.3 billion that the stimulus package dedicated to colleges and universities could translate on the ground. A tenth of the funding is to be divided between historically black colleges and universities, as well as grants for small institutions that have unmet needs related to the coronavirus. Three-quarters of the remaining 90 percent is to be distributed based on enrollment of full-time students receiving Pell Grants, with leftover money to be distributed based on share of enrollment not receiving Pell Grants. If the formula is applied uniformly across eligible students using 2018-19 enrollment data, Fitch estimates that institutions would receive about $1,400 per Pell student and $200 per non-Pell student.

Larger institutions, which are likely to have more resources on hand, are likely to receive the most aid, according to the ratings agency. Small private colleges, which have less financial wiggle room, may need more federal assistance.

“Even with funds earmarked specifically for small institutions with unmet coronavirus-related financial needs, the demand for, and method of, disbursement for these funds is yet unknown and may leave some smaller institutions to face heightened financial strain and rating pressure,” Fitch’s note said.

Generally, Fitch anticipates financial margins tightening across the sector.

The findings on coronavirus costs exceeding new revenue in the stimulus are similar to conclusions reached by Moody’s Investors service last week.

— Rick Seltzer

Historians and COVID-19

April 6, 1:38 p.m. The American Historical Association and several peer organizations in a new statement urge institutions that employ historians to be flexible and humane during COVID-19. The statement calls for clarity regarding any changes to faculty review, reappointment and tenure processes, and for only optional delays to individual personnel actions, such as tenure clocks. Non-tenure-track faculty members should be compensated for previously contracted spring, summer and fall course offerings, and universities should consider “extending the duration of funded support to graduate students as well as offering whatever support possible to graduate students who have suffered serious financial losses relating to the impact of the pandemic.” Libraries, museums and archives should similarly be as flexible as possible, according to the AHA.

“Everything has a history and historians are especially well suited to explain social and cultural challenges met in crisis situations, epidemics and pandemics among them,” the statement says. “Like our colleagues in related disciplines, historians can also explore the challenges public health authorities, governments and nonprofit institutions face in mediating possible conflicts between individual rights and the good of the greater society.”

The document concludes, “When a neighbor asks, ‘Is it worth sacrificing the economy for a few hundred thousand lives,’ it’s time for a humanist to enter the discussion. This important, and difficult, conversation too has a history.”

— Colleen Flaherty

Payments Deferred for Florida College Savings Program

April 6, 1:32 p.m. Parents in Florida who had signed up for prepaid plans to save for college will get some extra time before starting monthly payments.

The Florida Prepaid College Board announced today that it is deferring payments until July to help families through the economic and global health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus, according to a news release.

Prepaid plans let parents start saving for a child’s college education while also locking in future costs. Plans start at $44 per month for newborns, which is the lowest minimum amount in five years.

New customers who buy a plan during what’s left of the open enrollment period will have the $50 application fee waived. Their payments won’t start until July.

Current customers will have their April, May and June payments deferred, unless they choose to continue payments. Payment schedules will be extended by three months.

“As uncertain as these times are, we encourage Florida families to take comfort in knowing that Prepaid College Plans offer certainty and security for your college savings,” Kevin Thompson, executive director of Florida Prepaid, said in the news release. “All Prepaid College Plans are guaranteed by the State of Florida, ensuring families can never lose their investment.”

— Madeline St. Amour

Pay Cuts for University Presidents, Coaches

April 6, 11:48 a.m. University presidents and athletic administrators are among those who have begun taking pay cuts amid the pandemic and recession.

Michael Schill, president of the University of Oregon, on Friday announced a temporary reduction of 12 percent to his pay, The Register-Guard reported. The university’s vice presidents and athletic director will have their pay cut by 10 percent. The reductions will be in place for six months but may be extended.

“We are almost certainly all going to have to make sacrifices,” Schill said.

Athletic department coaches and other staff members at Iowa State University collectively will take $3 million in pay reductions, according to the Des Moines Register. The pay cuts are due in part to lost revenue from canceled basketball tournaments, Iowa State said.

The provost and president at Stanford University will take 20 percent pay cuts, according to Palo Alto’s The Daily Post. Other senior administrators at Stanford will see their pay slashed by 5 to 10 percent.

Andrew Rosen, the chairman of Kaplan Inc., which partners with Purdue University on the online Purdue University Global, has elected to take a 50 percent pay cut, Kaplan’s holding company said in a corporate filing.

Carol Folt, who became the University of Southern California’s president last year, will take a 20 percent cut, the Los Angeles Times reported.

— Paul Fain

American Medical Association Releases Guidance on Medical Student Participation in COVID-19 Response

April 5, 11:45 a.m. Medical students across the country, at institutions like Harvard University, New York University and the University of Kansas, are being permitted to graduate early to aid in the fight against COVID-19. Other students may be asked to help in patient care as part of their studies. The American Medical Association has now released guidance for medical schools and health systems on the involvement of medical students and early graduates.

“There are many opportunities for students to contribute to the clinical care of patients without engaging in direct physical contact with patients,” an introduction to the guidance reads. “However, in some institutions the workforce demands may be great enough that it is appropriate to consider including medical students in direct patient care.”

Among other recommendations, the AMA advises institutions to allow students to freely choose whether they would like to be involved in direct patient care, without incentives or coercion. Medical students should be given proper personal protective equipment and training on how to use it. Medical students should not be financially responsible for their own diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 should they become sick from school-approved activities, the association said.

For institutions with early graduation options for medical students to aid in the pandemic, the association stresses that the option should be enacted on a voluntary basis and be founded on achievement of core competencies. Institutions should not compel students to begin their matched residencies earlier than originally intended and should grant graduates full status as employees with appropriate salaries and benefits, the organization advised.

— Lilah Burke

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