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Latest news on coronavirus and higher education

Spring Breakers From UT Austin Test Positive

March 31, 5:35 p.m. University of Texas at Austin students have tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a spring break trip to Mexico.

About 70 young adults took a chartered plane to Cabo San Lucas, according to reports from NBC News. Once they returned, 28 tested positive for the virus, all of whom are students at UT Austin. The entire group is now under public health investigation.

The university is closely monitoring others who were on the flight. Those with confirmed cases are self-isolating.

— Madeline St. Amour

China Postpones Gaokao

March 31, 3:40 p.m. China’s high-stakes national college entrance exam, the gaokao, is being postponed by one month, until July, due to the coronavirus, Sixth Tone reported. The Chinese Ministry of Education said it was postponing the nine-hour standardized test to give students whose educations were shifted online extra time to prepare. “Given the different online study conditions across urban and rural areas, the impact on some students preparing for the exam in villages and poor areas has been much greater,” the ministry said in a statement.

— Elizabeth Redden

Senators Urge DeVos to Wait on Title IX Rule

March 31, 3:06 p.m. Three Democratic U.S. senators sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opposing any plans by the Education Department to issue a final rule on Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 while schools are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Patty Murray, the ranking member of the Senate’s education committee, wrote that releasing the final rule during the crisis would be “wholly unacceptable.” The final rule, proposed in November 2018, as it stands would require K-12 schools and colleges to “fundamentally” change the way they respond to incidents of sexual harassment and assault, the senators wrote. 

“K-12 schools and institutions of higher education face unprecedented uncertainty about the end of this school year and the start of the next school year,” the letter said. “We urge you not to release the final Title IX rule at this time and instead to focus on helping schools navigate the urgent issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic that is top of the mind for all students and families.”

— Greta Anderson

University of Arkansas Helping Small Businesses

March 31, 1:35 p.m. The University of Arkansas is creating an assistance program for small businesses impacted by the coronavirus.

The university’s Small Business and Technology Development Center is partnering with the Northwest Arkansas Council to create the Small Business Emergency Assistance program, which will assist nonprofits and small businesses in the region, according to a news release.

It will offer free services such as assistance with loan applications, financial reviews, market research, business planning and more.

“Small businesses and nonprofits are the heartbeat of our community,” Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council, said in the release. “We need to ensure eligible organizations are aware of all the available state and federal resources and aid packages to help them weather this crisis.”

Services will be provided remotely to ensure social distancing practices.

The program is supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation.

— Madeline St. Amour

MLA Grants for Part-Timers

March 31, 1:30 p.m. It’s not much, but it’s something: the Modern Language Association is offering $500 grants, by lottery, to part-time faculty members affected by COVID-19. Grants may be used to help make up for income lost to canceled courses, subsidize hours spent moving classes online or pay for personal technology used to teach. Eligible applicants are current MLA members who earn 50 percent or more of their income from part-time instruction at a college or university. They may not be eligible for benefits from any employer or in the first five years of their graduate studies. Applications are due May 1.

— Colleen Flaherty

UW Madison Estimates $100 Million Loss

March 31, 1:10 p.m. The University of Wisconsin at Madison anticipates an $100 million loss because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wisconsin State Journal has reported. Chancellor Rebecca Blank has said that estimate assumes operations will return to normal by June. Scientific models have not given a clear answer so far on whether that timeline will bear out.

The $100 million amount does not take into account refunds for tuition or fees, which Blank has said the university will not offer. But it does include prorated reimbursement of room and board fees.

The estimated figure is about 3.2 percent of Madison’s annual budget, and equivalent to a 22 percent cut in state funding for one year. The University of Wisconsin system cannot give an estimate for systemwide losses, but it estimates $78 million for room and board refunds.

— Lilah Burke

NCAA Division I Extends Spring Eligibility and Scholarships

March 31, 11:30 a.m. Division I athletes on spring teams will be permitted to compete for an additional season, and teams can provide scholarships for more athletes than rules typically allow, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Monday.

The adjusted limits will permit spring team coaches to grant scholarships to both incoming recruits and senior athletes who choose to continue to compete in 2020-21, but it will be up to institutions to decide whether to provide the aid, and how much. It is not required that senior athletes who return for the 2020-21 season retain the same scholarship they were awarded during 2019-20, according to an NCAA news release.

Institutions may also apply to extend the eligibility of all their spring athletes, not just seniors, by one year. And roster limits for baseball teams will be increased, the NCAA said. Athletes usually are permitted to compete for four seasons in a five-year period, but spring players this year had their seasons cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many winter athletes also had championship tournaments canceled, but the Division I Council on Monday decided it would not make exemptions for them because “all or much of their regular seasons were completed.”

— Greta Anderson

Zoom Tutorials from UC Riverside Profs

March 31, 10:38 a.m. Two psychology professors at the University of California, Riverside, have shared 35 how-to tutorials for teaching with Zoom and other online meeting tools faculty members around the country are using amid the move to virtual instruction. Topics the two have covered include lighting subjects, how to show PowerPoint slides while speaking and taking attendance during a lecture.

Online instruction should be served in “bite-size pieces,” according to the two professors.

“It would be easy to go on for 25 or 30 minutes in one lecture, and that’s too much. People will tune out,” said Liz Davis, an associate professor of psychology at the university. “It’s important to emphasize in our tutorial videos how important that is in online instruction.”

The ideal online class converts a lecture into a conversation, breaking it up with interactive prompts, said Annie Ditta, a teaching professor in Riverside’s psychology department. But that can take months of planning, so she advises colleagues to go easy on themselves.

“You have to turn 10-week classes into all-online immediately, so put it online however you can,” Ditta said.

— Paul Fain

New York AG Concerned About Zoom

March 31, 10:30 a.m. New York’s attorney general is questioning the videoconferencing tool Zoom about its privacy and security policies.

Letitia James sent a letter to Zoom asking what security measures it has put in place to deal with the increased traffic, according to The New York Times, which obtained a copy of the letter.

James called Zoom “an essential and valuable communications platform,” according to the Times, but she noted several concerns about security.

Zoom has come under scrutiny because of “Zoombombing.” Professionals, teachers and faculty members have reported people who have accessed their Zoom conferences and yelled profanities, showed pornography or displayed racist or anti-Semitic images.

On Sunday, Zoom posted a blog item saying the company changed its privacy policy to address some of these concerns.

James’s office has requested copies of Zoom’s policies.

— Madeline St. Amour

Stimulus Funding and OPM Payments

Colleges and universities that contract with online program management companies to help them transition to online instruction amid the pandemic may be unable to have their costs reimbursed under the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus, according to a blog post from the education practice of Cooley, a law firm.

“Funding cannot be used for payments to contractors for ‘pre-enrollment recruitment activities,’ which could present a challenge for many OPMs that structure their fees as tuition shares and therefore do not distinguish payments made for recruiting activities from payments for other eligible services under the CARES Act,” the blog post said.

— Paul Fain

Bleak Budget Forecast for Illinois

March 31, 9:40 a.m. Predicting the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting recession on state budgets is “virtually impossible,” given many surrounding uncertainties, according to a three-year budget forecast from the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. But with this caveat in mind, the forecast compared various previous downturns with current scenarios to get some guidelines of what sort of budget hit the state will take. The forecast found that a substantial share of general fund spending by Illinois could be wiped out over multiple years.

“It seems reasonable to offer a scenario with more devastating impacts on revenues in the near-term than even the ‘Great Recession’. As a result, should revenues experience a peak-trough decline of 20 percent, a revenue reduction of over $8 billion would be experienced, although likely spread over multiple fiscal years,” according to the report.

— Paul Fain

Student Loan Guarantor Stops Garnishing Payments​

March 30, 6:06 p.m. Ascendium, the nation’s largest student loan guarantor, announced that last week it stopped garnishing wages, tax refunds or Social Security benefits to collect overdue student loan payments, and will not try to involuntarily collect payments for at least 60 days after March 26. Ascendium also stopped contacting borrowers unless they are trying to resolve their debt.

The company also said it is refunding any money collected through messages it sent since March 13.

The announcement comes after U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ordered those steps on March 25. The stimulus package passed by Congress also ordered a stop to involuntary collections.

— Kery Murakami

March 30, 5:15 p.m. Temple University has made available its Liacouras Center, as well as other facilities, as overflow hospital space at no cost to the city of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are converting the center to a 250-bed emergency hospital.

— Lilah Burke

VCU Moves Students’ Belongings Without Communication

March 30, 5:10 p.m. Virginia Commonwealth University is turning its Honors College into a site for low-acuity patients in the event of a surge at VCU Medical Center.

Students’ belongings are still in the residence hall. They are being “inventoried, boxed, labeled and relocated to storage” for free by the university, according to a news release.

The decision was made before contacting students.

“We apologize for that. We are operating in a crisis situation with many moving parts,” the release said. “We will do better and ask for your understanding as we work through this crisis together.”

Many students apparently found out about the decision through a video that shows someone walking through the residence halls, narrating for the camera that they’ve been assigned to pack everything up and move the belongings.

One student wrote an op-ed for RVA Magazine criticizing the university for its alleged lack of communication.

— Madeline St. Amour

How to Prevent ‘Zoombombing’

March 30, 4:05 p.m. The FBI has some recommendations for how to handle “Zoombombing,” the practice of interrupting Zoom meetings with inappropriate content.

Two K-12 schools in Massachusetts reported to the FBI incidents of virtual classes being interrupted by profanity or displays of swastika tattoos, according to a news release.

The federal agency recommends the following for those using Zoom:

  • Don’t make meetings public. Zoom lets users make meetings private by requiring a meeting password or using a waiting room feature to control who’s admitted.
  • Don’t share a link to the meeting on a public social media post. Send the link to people directly.
  • Change the screen-sharing option in Zoom to “host only.”
  • Ask people to use the latest updated version of Zoom.
  • Ensure your organization’s telework policy addresses requirements for information security.

— Madeline St. Amour

Temporary Tuition Cut From Thomas Edison State

March 30, 2:03 p.m. New Jersey’s Thomas Edison State University announced a temporary tuition rate cut for undergraduates who take summer courses from the adult-focused university.

The reduction applies to “visiting” students, Thomas Edison said, meaning students who are not enrolled in a degree program from the university but are taking its courses. The cut will be $145 per credit for in-state residents and $35 per credit for out-of-state students and will apply to May, June or July terms. Per-course tuition rates at the university range from $399 to $544 per credit, depending on state residency and other factors.

“We don’t want students to lose their higher education momentum during this crisis,” Merodie A. Hancock, the university’s president, said in a statement. “This is not the time to charge our visiting students any more than our degree-seeking, enrolled students pay.”

— Paul Fain

Who Will Get Emergency Funds?

March 30, 12:15 p.m. The American Council on Education has created a simulation of where the emergency funds for higher education included in the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package will be distributed.

The bill gives nearly $14 billion to higher education. The simulation, which uses data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, provides an estimate of where the money will go for general planning. But the U.S. Department of Education ultimately will determine the final dollar amounts.

About $12.5 billion, or 90 percent, of the funding will be allocated to institutions based on a breakdown of 75 percent going toward the full-time enrollment equivalent of Pell Grant recipients and 25 percent for the full-time equivalent enrollment of students who don’t receive Pell Grants.

An alphabetized list of states and their institutions with the estimated funding amounts can be found here.

— Madeline St. Amour

Medical Schools Graduate Students Early

March 29, 12:20 p.m. Some medical schools are graduating students early so they can get to work sooner combating the COVID-19 pandemic. The Boston Herald reported that Tufts University, the University of Massachusetts and Boston University are all graduating students in their final year of medical school early after Massachusetts pledged to give graduating students automatic 90-day licenses to increase the health-care workforce. Medical students in their final year at Columbia University will graduate a month early and will be offered temporary employment at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. New York University also announced last week that it would allow certain medical students to graduate early, pending approval from its regulator and accreditor. And Rutgers New Jersey Medical School announced its final-year medical students would graduate in April instead of May. Rutgers said hospitals will make their own determinations whether students can get an early start to their residencies, which typically start July 1. Rutgers said 62 of its students matched to hospitals in New Jersey, and 58 matched to hospitals in New York, which has more COVID-19 cases than any other state.

The medical school accreditor has issued guidelines for medical schools interested in helping students graduate early. Alison Whelan, the chief medical education officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, identified a number of considerations for medical students graduating early during a press conference on Friday. Among them, Whelan emphasized that “the M.D. degree gives them the ability to have supervised practice, not independent practice. So creating the appropriate supervision will be necessary. They will also require a special license because they cannot have an independent license, but with the flexibility that many states and Federation of State Medical Boards have been providing in this crisis, that is an issue that will be easily resolved.”

“It’s important to note that these students recently [went] through the match program so they have a contractual obligation to begin residency by June or July, so thinking about what they need to do to transition at the end of this special time of special employment to be ready to meet their contractual requirement to really begin the next step of critical training will be something that both the individuals, their new employers, and their residency programs, will need to consider together,” Whelan said.

— Elizabeth Redden

Yale to Provide 300 Beds, Testing to First Responders

March 28, 4:45 p.m. The mayor of New Haven, Conn., Justin Elicker, yesterday criticized Yale University for declining to make a residence hall available to city police officers and firefighters who may have been exposed to the coronavirus, either directly or through contact with family members. Yale said its student housing facilities were not ready for new occupants and still contained students’ possessions.

Peter Salovey, Yale’s president, said this afternoon that the university would make 300 beds and expedited testing for COVID-19 available to the city’s first responders. Salovey’s statement follows.

“Yesterday, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker expressed frustration with Yale University’s lack of a swift positive response to his request for the university to provide housing for first responders to COVID-19.

We are eager to help New Haven with this need. We have been working to make this possible — and we agree that we should move as quickly as we can, in service of people doing extraordinary work on behalf of the New Haven community.

Toward that end, we will make 300 beds available by the end of this coming week to first responders and hospital personnel.

Furthermore, we have been working with first responders to make expedited COVID-19 testing in Yale laboratories available to responders who have been exposed to patients.

Additionally, on Thursday we announced a $5 million Yale Community for New Haven Fund to help address the consequences of the epidemic in New Haven.

Now more than ever, Yale and City Hall need to be on the same page. I know how committed all of us across the city and the university are to implementing an effective response to COVID-19, and I will do all I can to support this shared work.”

— Paul Fain

N.Y. Eases Requirements for Health-Care Workers

March 28, 1:24 p.m. New York State has temporarily suspended a wide range of licensing and other requirements for health-care workers in an attempt to mobilize more help in dealing with the pandemic.

Under the executive order from Andrew Cuomo, the state’s Democratic governor, students in academic programs for health-care fields are now able to volunteer in medical facilities and receive educational credit. The order also drops certain record-keeping requirements for health-care workers.

In addition, New York’s health commissioner for one year can modify examination or recertification requirements for emergency medical services providers.

The state also said a regulation to “allow graduates of foreign medical schools having at least one year of graduate medical education to provide patient care in hospitals” now “is modified so as to allow such graduates without licenses to provide patient care in hospitals if they have completed at least one year of graduate medical education.”

— Paul Fain

New Haven Mayor Says Yale Refused Request for Help

March 28, 11:07 a.m. Justin Elicker, the mayor of New Haven, Conn., said Yale University declined a request from the city for the use of a residence hall by asymptomatic city police officers and firefighters, the New Haven Register reported.

The city wanted the Yale residence hall for police officers and firefighters who had been exposed to the coronavirus or have family members who were exposed. Elicker said Friday in a virtual news conference that Peter Salovey, Yale’s president, said no to the request. Elicker then called Steve Kaplan, president of the University of New Haven, who, he said, granted the request within five minutes.

“UNH has rolled out the red carpet for us. They have worked to quickly get students’ belongings out of the dorms, and they are working with us to address other logistical and liability hurdles,” Elicker said. “We are quite close to finalizing an agreement with them so that our police officers and firefighters can begin moving into the space in the coming days.”

A Yale spokeswoman, Karen Peart, in a lengthy written statement described several ways the university is trying to help its local community, including the distribution of university funds, suspension of rent payments on Yale-owned properties, donated food and continuing to pay salaries of 6,000 New Haven residents who work for the university, among other local efforts.

As for the residence halls, Peart said they are not ready for new occupants:

Our student rooms still contain their belongings, but we have teams planning the feasibility of packing and storing all the student belongings so that the rooms could be utilized. We are pursuing schemes that involve professional movers and packers, and using temporary storage. The process will take weeks, as all of the residence hall rooms on campus are filled with student belongings. As soon as we have been able to clear any space, we have informed the mayor that we will let him know. We all wish the situation on our campus were different, but because our students had already gone home for spring recess when we implemented our social distancing restrictions, the rooms aren’t ready for others to live in them.

— Paul Fain

24-Hour Curfew in Alabama College Town

March 27, 4:15 p.m. Tuscaloosa’s mayor has issued an executive order extending a public safety curfew to 24 hours a day.

The curfew will start on Sunday at 10 p.m. and last through April 11, at which point the city will re-evaluate the curfew. Walt Maddox, the mayor, said briefings with doctors and researchers showed an “imminent threat” to the city’s health-care system, according to AL.com.

The curfew in the college town that’s home to the University of Alabama prohibits residents from leaving their homes except to go to work at essential businesses, buy groceries, visit pharmacies, exercise, pick up food or go to the doctor.

The university already had extended its spring break and asked students not to return to campus as the coronavirus spread.

March 27, 3:00 p.m. The Association of Research Libraries on Friday urged publishers to “maximize access to digital content during the emergency conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Earlier this week, the association signed a statement by the International Coalition of Library Consortia asking publishers to ease any simultaneous usage and interlibrary loan restrictions on subscription-based content. In a separate statement, the ARL said that opening up academic resources ensures students can continue their studies, and “scholars can continue their research and work to end the pandemic. As research library leaders, our member representatives understand that innovation, particularly in emergencies at a global scale, often happens at disciplinary intersections.”

As to research on COVID-19, the association pushed publishers to adopt an “expansive view” of research materials — think articles, book chapters, multimedia and data — “as they temporarily remove paywalls and create open resource portals related to the virus.” Topic-wise, the ARL advised opening up research on respiration, crisis and disaster management and response, clinical psychology, and other areas. More generally, 50 university presses already opened content on Johns Hopkins University Press’s Project MUSE for the rest of the academic year.

ARL remains concerned about educational equity in terms of access to research tools and broadband, not just content, it also said. Member libraries are partnering within their institutions to lend networked devices and Wi-Fi hotspots to students, “and to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the resources they need in the format they need them.” To those ends, the ARL further called on publishers “to use this crisis to ensure they meet W3C Web Accessibility Initiative standards in digital content and platforms as they expand access to educational materials now, and to work as allies with broadband providers to ensure access for all.”

— Colleen Flaherty

Arizona Universities Face Lawsuit Over Fees

March 27, 2:40 p.m. Students have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents, according to a press release from DiCello Levitt Gutzler, the law office handling the suit.

The lawsuit alleges that the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University have refused to refund the cost of room, board and other campus fees for the spring semester after the coronavirus outbreak forced campuses to close.

The Board of Regents recently announced that classes would be moved online due to the global health pandemic and encouraged students to move out of their campus residences.

However, the board hasn’t offered refunds for the unused portion of room and board campus fees, the lawsuit contends. Undergraduate room and board fees for this academic year ranged from $10,780 to $13,510 at the three universities.

Arizona State and Northern Arizona have not offered any fee refunds. The University of Arizona offered a nominal rent credit option, according to the release.

“While the universities were prudent in closing their campuses and encouraging students to vacate their on-campus housing, it is unconscionable for them to attempt to keep the many thousands of dollars in room and board feeds they collected from each student, even though they have terminated the services that these fees covered,” Adam Levitt, a partner at the law firm and co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said in the release. “College is already a monumental expense for students and their families, and to essentially offer them no relief, particularly during a time when millions of Americans are hurting financially, is woefully inadequate, tone-deaf, and needs to be made right.”

— Madeline St. Amour

House Approves Relief Package

March 26, 2:15 p.m. The House on Friday approved a massive $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, and President Trump signed it into law a few hours later. The measures will pay as much as $1,200 apiece to adults, increase unemployment benefits and provide loans to businesses.

For higher education, it also offers temporary help for those struggling to make their student loan payments. Most federal loan borrowers are excused from making payments for six months, interest is waived on the loans and loan collectors are prevented from garnishing wages, tax returns and Social Security benefits to collect overdue payments.

The bill, passed by the Senate Wednesday night, also provides $14 billion in funding for higher education institutions, half of which must be used for emergency grants to help students affected by the crisis.

“For institutions of higher learning, it will provide financial relief to colleges and universities and also support grants to displaced students,” Congressman Bobby Scott, the Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, said this morning before the vote.

“But it is important to recognize that this legislation is only a down payment on the relief that our communities will need in the weeks and months ahead,” he said. “It is critical for us all to understand that the CARES Act is not a stimulus package. It is a disaster relief effort that must continue for as long as it takes to ensure students, workers, and families can survive this crisis.”

In a statement after the vote, Scott added that another stimulus package Congress is expected to consider in a few weeks should “provide relief to cash-strapped student borrowers.”

Advocates for borrowers, though, were disappointed the newly passed measure does not go further. They had supported House and Senate Democratic proposals that called for the government to make borrowers’ payments for them, reducing the balances of those with federal loans by at least $10,000. The House Democratic proposal also would have paid down private student loans by as much as $10,000.

“Congress has taken the first few steps that young people need to maintain stability and security during these unprecedented times,” Jesse Barba, senior director of external affairs for the advocacy group Young Invincibles, said in a statement after the vote.

But, Barba said, “today’s coronavirus bill is a life raft — but not a rescue boat — for the millions of young people who are still grappling with how they will make ends meet as they navigate challenges like unemployment, student loan debt and paying their daily expenses.”

Consumer groups like the National Consumer Law Center also said they will be pushing for Congress in the next package it considers to give relief to borrowers excluded in Friday’s package. Under the legislation passed Friday, those with older Perkins and Federal Family Education Loans will not have their payments or interest deferred and are still subject to garnishments. The National Consumer Law Center​ said on Thursday that 1.2 million borrowers were excluded, but said on Friday after doing further analysis that the number is about eight million.

However, a spokesman for Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate education committee, said in a statement Friday that borrowers with those loans could consolidate them into direct loans and be eligible for relief.

Colleges and universities have also been disappointed that they received far less than the $50 billion they sought to help them pay for the cost of dealing with the crisis.

“Congress must do more in the weeks ahead to bolster the resources and protections provided to students, researchers, universities, laboratories, hospitals, and medical professionals,” Association of American Universities president Mary Sue Coleman said in a statement after the vote.

— Kery Murakami

NCAA’s Division III Faces Debt

March 27, 12:03 p.m. The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division III will face a deficit of $7.6 million this fiscal year, as all the NCAA’s divisions expect to lose about 70 percent of their annual revenue due to the cancellation of winter and spring athletics championships.

The NCAA announced yesterday that Division III’s revenue allocation from the association for fiscal year 2019-20 will be $22.3 million less than it was last year, as a result of losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. A Division III committee on strategic planning and finance decided on Tuesday to cancel several student and staff development programs and conferences to cut down on costs for the remainder of the year, an NCAA press release said.

“The financial loss for Division III will be significant, but money should never take precedence over life. We value people above all else,” Fayneese Miller, chair of the Division III committee and president of Hamline University in St. Paul, said in the release.

— Greta Anderson

NYU Dean Under Fire for Dancing Video

March 27, 11:15 a.m. The dean of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts is under fire from students.

Tisch students have been advocating for a partial refund of tuition, arguing the forced switch to remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic won’t provide the same level of education for drama and the arts that in-person instruction would have.

Students have been emailing Allyson Green, dean of the school, to fight for a partial refund. So far, Green has firmly said no.

But a video she attached to her latest email is making the rounds on social media and creating ire among students who see it as tone-deaf, according to an independent blog run by NYU students.

In the video, Green dances to the song “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. She invited students to dance with her in the body of the email, according to reports.

— Madeline St. Amour

Most Benefiting From Loan Payment Pause Are High-Income

March 26, 6:30 p.m. The 60-day pause on student loan payments for many borrowers in the stimulus package, which is expected to be passed by the U.S. House on Friday, mostly will lead to more money in the pockets of the highest-income households, the Urban Institute said.

Only two-thirds of student loan borrowers in 2016 — according to the most recent available data — were making payments on their loans and would have extra cash during the pause, according to the analysis.

Ninety percent of the highest-income households were paying down their loans, while only 30 percent of the lowest-income households were making payments and would have extra money from being excused from loan payments.

Of the 33 percent not making payments, most cited a loan forbearance, postgraduation grace period or loan forgiveness program. But a substantial fraction of those who were supposed to be making payments said they were not because they could not afford to, said the analysis by Matthew Chingos, the Urban Institute’s vice president for education data and policy.

Chingos said the data have implications for future stimulus packages. “If Congress’s goal is to increase households’ available cash and stimulate the economy, direct payments to families will more effectively accomplish that than loan forgiveness,” he wrote.

“But if the goal is to relieve hardship among families struggling with student debt, one option is to enact a one-time automatic rehabilitation of all defaulted loans, which would give a fresh start to defaulted borrowers at the end of the health emergency,” said Chingos. “Congress could eliminate the fees and capitalized interest added to defaulted loans, effectively giving defaulted borrowers a second chance to pay what they would owe if they hadn’t defaulted.”

— Kery Murakami

Attorneys General: More Relief for Student Borrowers

March 26, 6:00 p.m. A coalition of attorneys general is calling on the U.S. Department of Education to provide emergency relief for federal student loan borrowers.

Led by Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, the 27-person coalition sent a letter to the department with three requests.

First, they ask the department to halt all new and continuing involuntary collections, including wage garnishment and the offset of government benefits.

Second, they call for borrowers who are in or who enter forbearance, who are or become delinquent on payments, or who request to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan to be automatically enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan with a zero-dollar monthly payment. This should be done without requiring borrowers to submit applications, income verifications or recertification for the duration of the crisis, the attorneys general state.

Last, the coalition asks the department to extend eligibility for additional relief pursuant to previously announced modifications for those affected by national emergencies to all federal loan borrowers throughout the crisis.

“Thousands of New Yorkers and millions more across the country were already struggling with student loan debt prior to the coronavirus, but today, the financial hardship many face is more severe as a result of business closures, lost wages, and job losses,” James said in a statement. “Borrowers need immediate relief and cannot wait for a stimulus package to pass through Congress which is why our coalition is calling on the Department of Education to take immediate action and protect student loan borrowers. Any stimulus relief should be weighed separately and should not be used as an excuse to deprive borrowers what they need. Secretary [Betsy] DeVos has the power to help millions or ensure they are [not] left with billions in insurmountable debt.”

Yesterday, DeVos announced the department will stop collection actions and garnishing the wages of borrowers who are behind on their student loan payments. That order is effective for at least 60 days during the coronavirus outbreak.

— Madeline St. Amour

NCAA Announces Lowered Payments to Colleges and Universities

March 26, 3:22 p.m. The National Collegiate Athletic Association released a revised financial distribution plan showing $375 million less in allocations to Division I institutions than originally budgeted for 2020.

The NCAA’s Board of Governors voted to distribute $225 million to Division I, $13.9 million to Division II and $10.7 million to Division III member institutions, according to a press release. The NCAA’s revenue distribution was previously budgeted at $600 million for Division I. Divisions II and III are receiving $30 million and $22 million less, respectively, than they did in 2019.

Athletics departments at campuses across the country rely heavily on NCAA distributions to determine their own budgets.

Nearly $800 million — most of the NCAA’s revenue — comes from the Division I men’s basketball March Madness tournament, which was canceled two weeks ago because of the coronavirus pandemic. The $225 million to be given to Division I institutions in June will be made up of $50 million from NCAA reserves, and the remaining funds will come from credit lines to be paid off by a $270 million event cancellation insurance policy. The NCAA will also undergo a “variety of cost-cutting budget measures,” the press release said.

The NCAA has prepared for such revenue losses, said Michael Drake, chair of its Board of Governors and president of Ohio State University. The pandemic is a “financial catastrophic event,” he said.

“As an association, we must acknowledge the uncertainties of our financial situation and continue to make thoughtful and prudent decisions on how we can assist conferences and campuses in supporting student-athletes now and into the future,” Drake said in the release.

— Greta Anderson

Ohio University Pauses Personnel Cuts

March 26, 3 p.m. Ohio University is pausing personnel-related budget cuts because of the coronavirus.

Duane Nellis, the university’s president, about a month ago said an analysis recommended cutting the budget by $26 million over three years, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Enrollment has been down at the university, but Nellis said in a letter to faculty, staff and leadership that the situation is being reassessed in light of the public health pandemic.

“Our current focus must be on the safety and well-being of our campus communities as we continue to ensure the education of our students and service to our region,” Nellis wrote, according to the Dispatch.

The institution is also extending by two weeks the deadline for previously announced buyouts for about 600 eligible employees.

Ohio University’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors applauded the decision.

“This move to protect jobs in uncertain times is a perfect demonstration of what true Bobcat solidarity — with our employees, our students, and our region — looks like,” the chapter said in a statement.

— Madeline St. Amour

University of West Florida Details Housing Refund Costs

March 26, 2:45 p.m. The University of West Florida expects housing refunds to cost it approximately $1.2 million this year.

That’s a very small percentage of the university’s $318 million operating budget. A relatively low number of students live on campus — the university reports 29 percent of its enrollment received online program delivery in the fall. And administrators are still working with a vendor to hammer out details on dining plan refunds.

West Florida provided the estimated cost of all refunds after yesterday announcing details about prorated rooming refunds in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. It is providing refunds based on flat rates that vary by the type of housing unit in which students lived.

The issue of refunding room and board is important, because revenue from student housing is significant at some institutions. Examples like West Florida help to show how refund costs could vary based on factors like how much colleges and universities collect in room and board under normal circumstances and how many of their students live on campus. Yesterday the University of Maine system said refunds would cost it nearly $13 million, or 2.3 percent of its budgeted revenue for the year.

The University of West Florida also announced yesterday that it will offer all summer courses online this year. Today it said all undergraduate and graduate students will have the option of taking courses on a pass/fail basis this spring.

— Rick Seltzer

Hiring Freezes Begin

March 26, 11:10 a.m. Dozens of colleges and universities have announced hiring freezes, according to self-reported information.

Faculty and staff self-reported the freezes to the blog The Professor Is In, and they have not been verified.

The list includes a range of institutions: Yale, Brown and Duke Universities; the Colorado School of Mines; and state universities in Kansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

— Madeline St. Amour

Move-Outs Postponed

March 26, 11:10 a.m. The University of Maryland is postponing move-outs for students until further notice.

The university cites guidance from Larry Hogan, governor of Maryland, and public health experts for the decision in a news release.

Originally, students who wished to return to campus to get their belongings and officially move out were told to come to campus between March 27 and April 5. But it’s not clear if doing so would go against public health recommendations to maximize social distancing, the release states.

The institution plans to send out a new appointment schedule once conditions in Maryland allow for students to return to campus to check out. Students who need to retrieve critical items, like passports or necessary medication, are asked to contact the department of resident life.

Residents who are still living on campus are asked to continue with their move-out plans following public health and travel guidelines if it is safe for them to do so. Students who were approved for emergency on-campus housing starting April 5 can remain in residence halls.

Online classes are still scheduled to resume March 30.

— Madeline St. Amour

Unemployment Surges With 3.3 Million New Claims

March 26, 9:30 a.m. Last week 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment, the Labor Department reported, a surge that shattered the previous record of 695,000 claims in October 1982.

Repercussions of the depression-level spike will be felt broadly across higher education, experts said. Colleges and universities themselves have begun to struggle as broad swaths of the economy have been shut down amid social-distancing efforts to blunt the pandemic. Many are freezing new hires, cutting pay or laying off staff members, particularly contract workers. More such actions, including furloughs, are likely in coming weeks.

State budgets are certain to feel the hit of the sputtering economy and unemployment in declining tax revenues. For example, New Jersey this week froze $921 million in previously allocated state spending amid severe projected tax revenue drops, including roughly $100 million for public colleges and universities.

Bryan Alexander, a futurist and researcher at Georgetown University, on Twitter said the unemployment numbers spell major challenges for higher education.

— Paul Fain

Stimulus Package Contains $1 Billion for Colleges Serving Minority, Low-Income, First-Generation Students

March 25, 5:10 p.m. The bipartisan stimulus package that congressional lawmakers are expected to approve today has earmarked just over $1 billion of dedicated funding for colleges and universities that serve a high percentage of minority, low-income and first-generation college students.

The funding will help historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and other minority-serving institutions cover the operational costs of responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The costs include transitioning from in-person, on-campus instruction to distance and online options, assisting some students with the costs of moving off-campus and returning home, keeping residential halls open for those who cannot go home, and ensuring that campus buildings are safe and free of the virus. All those costs “put a tremendous unforeseen financial strain on institutions that have historically been underfunded,” according to the United Negro College Fund.

The UNCF led an effort by the affected institutions to call on Congress to respond to the needs of HBCUs, which serve a disproportionately high percentage of low-income and first-generation college students, who are largely dependent on federal financial aid and other types of financial assistance and student loan programs. The HBCUs and other higher education institutions that will receive the funding tend to have small endowments and are highly tuition-driven.

“I want to thank the congressional leadership for responding to our call and the needs of HBCUs, and indeed the rest of the higher education community,” UNCF president and CEO Michael L. Lomax said in a prepared statement. “I call on the House and Senate to swiftly pass this legislation. Also, let me be clear: the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting HBCUs hard. All emergencies that hit the higher education system seem to hit HBCUs harder because we serve mostly Pell Grant-eligible students.”

— Marjorie Valbrun

UMaine System Estimates Room and Board Refunds to Cost Nearly $13 Million

March 25, 4:40 p.m. The University of Maine system is estimating that refunding room and board to students who are no longer living on campus because of the coronavirus outbreak will cost $12.85 million.

That’s about 2.3 percent of the university’s total revenue budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, which is $553 million. Pressure to issue room and board refunds is one important source of financial stress for colleges and universities scrambling to protect students from the pandemic by sending them home and transitioning classes to remote or online instruction. But it has remained unclear exactly how much refunds will cost most institutions, as many have been crunching the numbers.

“Our students were planning on having a place to live and having meals provided through the end of the semester by our universities,” a spokesman for the Maine system said in an email. “Students still have essential food and shelter needs that the university can no longer meet and they are entitled to refunds to help cover their living expenses.”

The system decided to adjust room and board charges by 46 percent for the semester, based on 102 days a student would have been in a residence hall for the entire semester. When the university’s spring break began March 13, a total of 47 days remained in the term.

The adjustment percentage applies at all system campuses. Refunds are expected to be complete by March 31.

Details about the refunds emerged today as the system announced it had resumed classes for nearly 27,000 students after extending spring break by two days to enable the move to distance education. Before spring break began, 5,809 students lived in residence halls. Today, 291 students remain due to what the system called extenuating personal circumstances.

“Today’s resumption of classes will be unlike anything before in the history of our universities,” Dannel Malloy, chancellor of the University of Maine system, said in a news release. “The transition to distance instruction and 95% reduction in our on-campus population were necessary to protect community health and help blunt the spread of the virus.”

The system is extending the deadline for students to choose pass/fail grading options. It plans to keep paying federal work-study students unable to work on campus or remotely for the remainder of the spring semester. It will pay non-federal work-study students who are employees through a pay period ending April 4.

It has similarly committed to full pay for regular employees through April 4.

— Rick Seltzer

S&P Issues Negative Outlook for Private Student Housing Projects

March 25, 4:20 p.m. Citing impacts and uncertainties tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, S&P Global Ratings today moved its outlook to negative for private student housing projects connected to U.S. colleges and universities.

The outlook is in part a reflection of expected business conditions the projects will face. But it also reflects some stresses being felt at colleges and universities themselves.

They include a “sudden and potentially prolonged decline in student housing occupancy” and subsequent loss of rental revenue as colleges turn to online learning. Potential effects are uncertain and the situation is evolving, S&P noted.

“Given this and the lack of clarity around the possible duration of the COVID-19 outbreak, in our opinion, fall 2020 enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities will likely be weaker than expected, and occupancy in privatized student housing projects could be negatively affected,” the ratings agency said in a news release.

A small number of student housing projects S&P rates could receive financial support from colleges and universities through arrangements like first-fill agreements or lease-vacancy guarantees.

S&P noted that some universities with private student housing projects have announced termination or cancellation arrangements allowing students to end leases without paying some rent or cancellation fees. Private housing projects will likely need to issue prorated rent refunds in such cases, the ratings agency said.

“In certain cases, the sponsor institutions have agreed to pay the privatized student housing projects the rent they would have received under the terminated or cancelled lease agreements upon submission of appropriate documentation,” S&P said in its news release. “In our view, this extraordinary university support is a positive credit factor that mitigates the projects’ operating risk in the short term. However, even in these cases, we believe there is medium-term risk related to fall 2020 enrollment and related housing occupancies, and the future ability or willingness of these sponsor institutions to help support the projects.”

The situation could vary from campus to campus.

S&P rates 63 private student housing projects across the country.

— Rick Seltzer

Professors: Bail Out People, Not Companies

March 25, 4:15 p.m. Dozens of professors specializing in economics, finance and law have signed a letter criticizing the Senate’s proposed stimulus legislation.

“Spending taxpayer money to bail out large corporations is a huge mistake. The money should instead be spent on the people who are most affected,” the letter states.

The $2 trillion package would include $500 billion in loans for distressed companies.

Several professors who signed the letter answered questions today at a virtual press conference. They called for Congress to send money to the neediest Americans and not bail out companies like United Airlines.

“Bailing out corporations is actually bailing out investors,” said Jonathan Berk, professor of finance at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “We are essentially moving money from poor people to rich people.”

The professors stressed that bankruptcy for larger companies doesn’t mean total liquidation. United Airlines, for example, continued operations while filing for bankruptcy in the past, according to Berk.

It’s best to think of corporations as two pieces, he said: the operating corporation, and how it’s financed. When a corporation is bailed out, that benefits the people financing it. It doesn’t really affect whether it can operate, Berk said.

The financial crisis isn’t being caused by whether companies are doing well, either, Berk said. Rather, the market is reflecting the impact of the health pandemic. The way to fix that is to stop the spread of the coronavirus and find a vaccine for it.

“Every dollar that’s taken away from supporting investors and United Airlines and put into families and into our medical system to make sure that we beat this crisis is going to serve us much better in the long run,” said Paul Pfleiderer, professor of finance at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

When asked about whether the United States could see a “double dip” pandemic if the administration calls for an end to social distancing too soon, the professors said they are worried.

“We’re seeing a fragility of the economy” due to corporations loading up on cheap debt, said Anat Admati, professor of finance and economics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “The consequences of ignoring health experts are dire for everybody — for both people and the economy.”

— Madeline St. Amour

Tax-Free Student Loan Payments by Employers

March 25, 4:00 p.m. The Senate’s proposed $2 trillion stimulus bill includes a tax break for student loan payments made by employers.

A growing number of mostly large companies have been offering to pay down part of the student loan balances for employees and new hires. For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers last year announced that it had paid $25 million toward the student loan debt of employees. The auditing and professional services company offers $1,200 in loan repayment per year for up to six years for its associates and senior associates.

Experts in the employer college tuition and loan benefits space — estimated to include more than $20 billion in annual spending by employers — have said a tax incentive could dramatically expand such programs. The 619-page stimulus bill would move in this direction.

Section 2206 of the proposal would exclude from taxation any payment made this year “by an employer, whether paid to the employee or to a lender, of principal or interest on any qualified education loan incurred by the employee for education of the employee.”

Criticizing the provision was Jason Delisle, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“It gives employers a big incentive to set up loan repayment plans under which they will effectively pay employees who have student loans more than employees who don’t,” Delisle said on Twitter. “That doesn’t make sense. The reasons people have student debt are varied — the debt is not a proxy for hardship.”

Sara VanWagoner is vice president of corporate growth for Edcor, one of the larger players in the employer benefits’ field. She said a non-taxable benefit for student loan assistance benefits payments would be a “huge win” for both employers and employees.

“Employers will be more open to offering the benefit, allowing for improved recruitment, retention and diversity initiatives,” VanWagoner said via email. “Employees can pay down their student debt even faster, without the burden of paying additional taxes on the benefit dollars.”

— Paul Fain

No Involuntary Collections of Late Student Loan Payments

March 25, 2:36 p.m. Betsy DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, announced the department will stop collection actions and garnishing the wages of borrowers who are behind on their student loan payments. The order is in effect for at least 60 days during the coronavirus outbreak.

To implement the order, DeVos said the Education Department has stopped asking the Treasury Department to withhold overdue payments from defaulted borrowers’ federal income tax refunds, Social Security payments and other federal payments.

“These are difficult times for many Americans, and we don’t want to do anything that will make it harder for them to make ends meet or create additional stress,” DeVos said in a statement. “Americans counting on their tax refund or Social Security check to make ends meet during this national emergency should receive those funds, and our actions today will make sure they do.”

DeVos also said the Education Department has asked private collection agencies it contracts with to stop collection activities against the borrowers, including calling them and sending letters and billing statements.

— Kery Murakami

Senate Bill Money for Institutions ‘Woefully Inadequate’

March 25, 2:25 p.m. The president of the umbrella association representing colleges and universities said the amount of aid for higher education institutions included in the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill headed to a vote in the Senate is “woefully inadequate.”

While the bill is still being finalized and education lobbyists are reviewing the mammoth document, a summary of the proposal said it includes $30.75 billion in grants to “provide emergency support to local school systems and higher education institutions to continue to provide educational services to their students.” That amount appears to be about $29 billion less than what higher education institutions could potentially get in the bill proposed by House Democrats, but $21 billion more than what Senate Republicans had initially proposed, one higher education lobbyist said.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said in a statement that the bill includes some easing of regulations, which institutions sought, and excuses student loan borrowers from making payments for six months, though, “in this area too there is more that could be done.” But Mitchell said, “we cannot stress enough that overall, the assistance included in the measure for students and institutions is far below what is required to respond to the financial disaster confronting them.”

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged on the Senate floor that the bill does not go as far as advocates for debt cancellation had wanted. “This bill is far from perfect,” he said. “Many flaws remain, some serious. By no stretch of the imagination is this the bill Democrats would have written had we been in the majority. … We would have included more relief for student borrowers.”

— Kery Murakami

Early Graduation for NYU Medical Students

March 25, 1:10 p.m. New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine is allowing some medical students to graduate early to help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The school tweeted the news today, saying it is still pending approval from its accrediting body and the state’s education department.

Students in the graduating Class of 2020 who meet completion requirements will be able to start working as early as April, according to Brief19, a medical news outlet on the coronavirus started by physicians, which obtained a copy of the dean’s letter to students.

The dean told students they would be fully compensated if they elect to graduate early, according to Brief19, and the offer is open for students studying any field of medicine. The intent is to relieve front-line health workers in New York who are working overtime to treat those with COVID-19.

— Madeline St. Amour

Six-Month Loan Deferment in Senate Bill

March 25, noon. Student loan borrowers would be allowed to defer making payments for six months, without interest, through Sept. 30, according to a summary of the $2 trillion stimulus package Senate leaders agreed to at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning. The full bill is still being written and hasn’t yet been released.

But according to summaries of the bill making the rounds among education advocacy groups and obtained by Inside Higher Ed, the measure will also include changes sought by advocates such as not requiring Pell Grant students to repay money to the federal government if their terms are disrupted by the coronavirus emergency.

However, the bill is expected to disappoint advocates who had embraced Democratic proposals in the House and Senate, in which the federal government would have made the payments on behalf of borrowers, reducing their balances by at least $10,000. The summary did not mention any loan cancellation.

A separate summary contains $30.75 billion in grants to “provide emergency support to local school systems and higher education institutions to continue to provide educational services to their students and support.” That amount appears be about $29 billion less than what higher education institutions could potentially get in the bill proposed by House Democrats, but $21 billion more than what Senate Republicans had initially proposed, one higher education lobbyist said. Associations representing institutions that were disappointed with the previous proposals were still waiting for the full bill before they commented on the level of funding.

The bill requires the secretary to defer student loan payments, principal and interest for six months, through Sept. 30, 2020.

The Senate is expected to pass the measure later today.

— Kery Murakami

Layoffs, Pay Cuts and Hiring Freezes

March 25, 10 a.m. LIU Post, which is part of Long Island University, has announced temporary layoffs of dozens of employees, Newsday reported. The university did not specify how many employees were laid off, what their job roles are or if it is committed to bringing them back when the campus opens again.

“After reviewing the job duties of employees who are required to work from home, the university concluded that the work performed by some of its employees is not amenable to working remotely,” LIU Post said in a statement to the newspaper. “Accordingly, LIU has reluctantly decided to temporarily lay off a small percentage of its workforce for the next 30 days. The university has committed to making no further adjustments during this period.”

In February, LIU Post froze new student enrollments in several academic majors, following similar shifts in recent years. The university’s overall enrollment declined by about 10 percent over four years, to roughly 5,500 students last year. It said the program-offering changes were an attempt to prioritize more high-demand fields.

A growing number of colleges and universities have announced pay cuts and hiring freezes amid the initial financial hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Quinnipiac University this week cut pay for faculty and staff members. And the University of Bridgeport recently said a budget deficit and the pandemic’s impact will lead to staff cuts.

Meanwhile, two flagship public universities said they were committed to paying employees through the crisis.

Eric Barron, Pennsylvania State University’s president, said Tuesday that some of the university’s auxiliary and other units were losing millions of dollars. But Barron said Penn State would pay the full salary of its workers through at least April 30.

“We want to make sure that employees do not experience an abrupt financial dislocation, and we will wait until mid-April to make any determination with respect to any potential furloughs or layoffs that may be necessary after April 30, in light of this unprecedented situation,” he said in the statement.

Indiana University, Bloomington, earlier this week said it was freezing staff hires and that faculty searches will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. But Michael McRobbie, IU’s president, said in a statement Monday that staff members will not be required to use any accrued time off for absences related to the crisis. And employees who are designated as essential and required to work on campus will receive premium pay of time and a half for that work.

McRobbie also thanked the university’s employees in his message:

I extend my most sincere thanks, that of IU’s senior leadership and that of the IU Trustees to all our faculty who are working with such breakneck speed to transform their courses to all virtual instruction. Our most sincere thanks to all our staff who provide the myriad support services that are making this transformation possible. Our most sincere thanks to all the staff who are keeping as much as possible of the normal business of the university operating. And our special thanks to all those at the front lines of this fight — those responsible for cleaning and sanitizing of the university, the police and other public safety officials, and our health care workers who are working with those who have or have been exposed to COVID-19. To all of you we express our most grateful thanks.

— Paul Fain

Quinnipiac Cutting Pay

March 24, 5 p.m. Quinnipiac University in Connecticut notified faculty and staff members on Monday that they will face pay cuts.

The university said the decision is due to the coronavirus pandemic, the New Haven Independent reported.

“The far-reaching disruptions caused by Covid-19 have resulted in significant additional expenses for our university and lost revenues from programs that were canceled. In addition, the pandemic creates uncertainty in our future enrollment projections,” Judy Olian, president of Quinnipiac, wrote in an email to faculty and staff, according to the Independent. “Accordingly, we are taking measured steps now to address our financial reality.”

All employees will receive temporary salary reductions from April 1 through June 30. Those earning $50,000 or less annually will receive a 3-percent reduction, with others receive a 5-percent reduction.

Members of the management committee, including Olian, will take larger pay cuts.

Merit increases also will be eliminated for the 2020-21 academic year.

— Madeline St. Amour

Dem Aide: Ambitious Debt Cancellation ‘Not Happening’

March 24, 2:35 p.m. A Democratic aide tells Inside Higher Ed the $10,000 debt cancellation Democrats in the House and Senate wanted as part of the coronavirus rescue legislation is not a viable option. A smaller form of cancellation is possible, the aide said.

“Republicans balked at the large-scale cancellation of student loans,” the aide said. “We pushed until the end, but it’s not happening.”

Senate Republicans had proposed to excuse borrowers from making their monthly payments, without interest accruing, for at least 60 days. Senate Democrats, however, want the federal government to make monthly payments for federal loan borrowers so their debt will go down by at least $10,000. Democrats in the House on Monday night proposed the same thing but would also offer relief to those with private loans, up to $10,000.

A senior Republican Senate aide told Inside Higher Ed this morning, “Senate Republicans believe there are more efficient ways to provide relief to students, borrowers and all Americans — ways that are reflected in the legislation that Democrats continue to obstruct.”

But the Democratic aide countered, “When Republicans say ‘more efficient ways,’ they mean ways that don’t provide substantial relief to students. There are also ‘more efficient ways’ to put money in people’s pockets, but that’s never stopped them from arguing for massive income tax rate cuts for the super-rich.” 

— Kery Murakami

Central Washington Declares Financial Exigency 

March 24, 2:30 p.m. Central Washington University is declaring a state of financial exigency.

The public university’s Board of Trustees cited issues stemming from the novel coronavirus in their proclamation, which was first reported on Twitter by Dan Bauman, a reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Financial exigency refers to an imminent financial crisis that threatens the institution’s survival. This declaration will let Central Washington take unusual steps to cut costs, such as potentially laying off tenured faculty members. 

The board anticipates that the measures the university took to prevent the spread of the virus, such as canceling in-person classes and closing the campus to the public, will lead to a drop in enrollment and retention. The absence of people on campus will lead to a drop in revenue for auxiliary services. Event cancellations will also hurt the university.

The loss of economic activity and tax revenue for the state from the pandemic also is likely to lead to less funding for public institutions, the board’s letter said.

— Madeline St. Amour

Harvard’s President Tests Positive

March 24, 1 p.m. The president of Harvard University has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

In a letter to the university community, Lawrence Bacow said he and his wife, Adele, learned today they both tested positive.

The couple began experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 on Sunday. They’ve been working from home and practicing social distancing since March 14, according to the letter, and are unsure how they caught the virus.

“This virus can lay anyone low. We all need to be vigilant and keep following guidelines to limit our contact with others,” Bacow wrote. “Your swift actions over the past few weeks — to respond to the needs of our community, to fulfill our teaching mission and to pursue research that will save lives — have moved me deeply and made me extraordinarily grateful and proud.”

— Madeline St. Amour

COVID-19 Death at New York’s International House

March 24, 11:43 a.m. A resident of International House — a living-learning community in New York City connected with Columbia University — died Saturday of complications of COVID-19, and International House reported today that another member of its community had tested positive for COVID-19 and “has been recovering without complications outside the premises for over two weeks.” International House also said a staff member tested positive several weeks ago and is also recovering at home without complications.

International House said in a statement it is accelerating efforts to shut down the larger of its two buildings, “which contains numerous communal spaces such as study rooms, lounges and dining facilities,” as well as shared bathrooms. Another building, which has self-contained apartments, remains open.

— Elizabeth Redden

Push for More Donations in Stimulus

March 24, 11:20 a.m. Colleges and universities are hoping to see a Republican proposal to encourage more charitable donations during the coronavirus crisis included in the mammoth stimulus package being negotiated in Congress.

The American Council on Education and 18 other higher education associations in a letter Monday to Senator James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, called for allowing nonitemizing taxpayers to deduct charitable gifts up to one-third of the standard deduction, or $4,000 for individuals and $8,000 for married couples.

“Your proposed temporary Universal Charitable Deduction — widely supported by the charitable community — would provide a significant giving incentive for all taxpayers during a time of incredible need,” the letter said. “It would also provide immediate support to help colleges and universities continue fulfilling their teaching, research and public service missions.”

— Kery Murakami

Students Return to Liberty’s Campus

March 24, 11 a.m. Liberty University students are returning to the Virginia campus from their spring breaks, bucking the trend of colleges sending students home for the rest of the semester.

While classes are being taught online, Liberty is opening up campus for students who wish to return to their residence halls, according to a news release. Faculty members also are expected to hold office hours, but they can file requests for accommodations if they feel they are at higher risk for contracting and recovering from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“While some colleges basically threw their hands up and just shut down and left the problem for somebody else to deal with, Liberty’s executive staff rolled their sleeves up,” Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty’s president, said in a news release. “I’ve been so impressed meeting with them every day; they have stepped up to the plate and made necessary changes to help the students. If there was a medal of honor for their type of service, I’d give every one of them one for their incredible work and how creative they are. I don’t think there’s another university in the country that has a staff as good as ours.”

Other university operations also are open. Staff are running the dining hall and fitness center for students but limiting occupancy to 10 people at a time to follow the statewide ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

The Virginia Department of Health sent an inspector for a surprise visit to the campus after the governor announced the 10-person limit, according to the news release. The university was found to be in compliance with all restrictions.

Annex I, a former hotel owned by Liberty, is being used to quarantine those with symptoms of the coronavirus.

The campus is closed to visitors, though, and campus events are being canceled on a two-week basis.

— Madeline St. Amour

Debt Cancellation Faces Opposition from Senate Republicans

March 24, 10:50 a.m. As negotiations reportedly continued over a massive stimulus package, a senior Republican Senate aide threw doubt on the idea of including the cancellation of student debt in the package, as Democrats in the Senate and House propose.

“Senate Republicans believe there are more efficient ways to provide relief to students, borrowers and all Americans — ways that are reflected in the legislation that Democrats continue to obstruct,” the aide said, referring to the Senate Republican proposal to excuse borrowers from making their monthly payments, without interest accruing, for at least 60 days.

Senate Democrats want the federal government to make the monthly payments for federal loan borrowers so their debt will go down by at least $10,000. Democrats in the House on Monday night proposed the same thing, but would also offer relief of up to $10,000 for those with private loans.

— Kery Murakami

AERA Cancels Upcoming Meeting

March 24, 9:45 a.m. Less than three weeks after laying out plans to change its upcoming annual meeting to a virtual version, the American Educational Research Association is saying that it is now canceling that virtual conference.

A unanimous March 22 resolution from the association’s governing body, the AERA Council, made the cancellation of the virtual conference official. The original in-person gathering had been expected to draw 16,000 or more people to San Francisco from April 17 to 21.

The initial effort to change to a virtual conference came as leaders hoped to create an online platform without cost to anyone, wrote AERA executive director Felice J. Levine and AERA president Vanessa Siddle Walker in a message to members and those who had registered for the meeting. They’d planned to give presenters and participants the chance to share work and connect with audiences from around the world.

“Yet, the rapidly changing circumstances, even as recently as this weekend, made us question whether our vision of a safe-haven virtual environment could be realized,” Levine and Walker wrote. “We have been monitoring the coronavirus disease, now sweeping the United States, over the last week to assess whether our vision of a free, open-access Virtual Annual Meeting for all would continue to provide the safe and secure space for participants and attendees we had imagined, or whether it was adding to a ‘to do’ list growing exponentially for far too many.”

AERA describes itself as the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning.

— Rick Seltzer

N.J. Freezes Nearly $1 Billion in State Spending

March 24, 9:20 a.m. Citing a “precipitous” expected decline in tax collection and pension liabilities, New Jersey has frozen $921 million in state government spending, Elizabeth Maher Muoio, New Jersey’s treasurer, said in a written statement.

Funding streams the state has placed in the reserve spending freeze included $71 million in college operating aid, $21 million in tuition assistance and $10 million in county college operating costs.

“The impact of COVID-19 on the state, its economy, and budget and finances is unpredictable and rapidly changing, but the state believes that events surrounding COVID-19 will negatively impact the state’s economy and financial condition,” Muoio said. “The actual impact of COVID-19 on the state, its economy and its budget and finances will heavily depend on future events, including future events outside of the control of the state, and actions by the federal government as well as nations across the world.”

— Paul Fain

Tribal Colleges Call for More Funding

March 23, 5:50 p.m. The American Indian Higher Education Consortium is asking its members to advocate for special funding to help tribal colleges mitigate the coronavirus pandemic.

Many tribal colleges and universities have little to no existing capacity for online teaching, according to a news release from the Tribal College Journal. Many also lack a consistent IT infrastructure.

The consortium estimates the colleges need $140 million to install community-based internet access points, update outdated IT infrastructure, implement learning management systems for online teaching and provide professional development for faculty.

“With the spread of COVID-19, TCUs and TCU students are faced with tremendous, disruptive change. We need to secure our campuses, move to online learning, and create safe spaces and opportunities to learn at a distance,” the release states. “Yet TCUs have the worst internet access, at the highest average cost, when compared to all other colleges and universities in the United States. TCUs educate more enrolled American Indians and Alaska Natives than any other postsecondary education institutions in the U.S. — and our students need and deserve equitable resources.”

Current proposals include emergency aid, but only a limited amount for tribal colleges, according to the release.

— Madeline St. Amour

Details in House Democrats’ Stimulus Plan

March 23, 5 p.m. As Senate Democrats continued to negotiate a more than $1 trillion economic stimulus package, Democrats in the House were circulating a draft of their own proposal, expected to be released later Monday. The proposal mirrors the plan laid out by Senate Democrats but goes further in some respects.

Like the Senate Democratic plan, House Democrats proposed for the federal government to cover monthly student loan payments for borrowers, as long as a national emergency declaration over the coronavirus epidemic continues. And the payments would reduce the balances of what borrowers owe.

In contrast, Senate Republicans have proposed excusing borrowers from making monthly payments for six months, interest-free. But when the payments are required again, borrowers’ balances would be what they are now.

House Democrats would go further than their peers in the Senate by making payments for private student loans as well, for 22 months. Borrowers who are behind on their payments but aren’t yet in default would be placed retroactively in forbearance so they would be considered current in making payments. And the government would pay their monthly payments.

The proposal also has more funding as well for higher education institutions than the $6 billion proposed by Senate Republicans. Thirty percent of $30 billion in funding allocated to states would be set aside for colleges and universities under the plan. Institutions also could get more because some of an additional 40 percent of state grants could be distributed between K-12 and higher education.

In addition, another $9.5 billion, including $1.5 billion for historically black colleges and universities, would be distributed through as-yet-undetermined grant process to reimburse institutions for coronavirus-related costs.

Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education’s senior vice president for government and public affairs, worried that the grant process would take too long to help institutions that need immediate financial help.

— Kery Murakami

Coronavirus Call Centers

March 23, 3:45 p.m. Got questions about coronavirus? Some colleges are starting call centers to provide answers for students, parents and staff members.

Purdue University is launching its call center today to provide information on what COVID-19 means for the university in Indiana, from housing to financial aid to academics. University employees will staff the center Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Mississippi State University is also providing a phone number for people to call, as is Mississippi Delta Community College.

The call center at the community college is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Staff members will have information on current campus operations, like admissions, financial aid and online classes.

— Madeline St. Amour

Colleges, Organizations Offer Emergency Aid to Students

March 23, 3:20 p.m. Colleges and universities are offering emergency funds to students in light of the spread of a novel coronavirus.

The Northern Virginia Community College Educational Foundation launched a new emergency aid fund for students affected by the pandemic with a $250,000 contribution from the NOVA Foundation. More than half of NOVA’s students work in full- or part-time jobs, many of which are now at risk as the country enters a recession.

“Ensuring every NOVA student succeeds is our highest priority always,” Anne Kress, NOVA’s president, said in a news release. “But especially now, as our students face unprecedented challenges, we have an obligation to ensure they have our support. Our students will help our community rebuild and prosper but they can only do this if we provide the assistance they need. I encourage everyone to consider donating to the Emergency Student Aid Fund.”

Temple University in Philadelphia also is offering emergency aid funds for students who apply, as well as partnering with community groups to offer services like food pantries, according to The Temple News.

Several organizations have partnered to start the Student Relief Fund, which has so far raised $95,000 to help students whose lives were affected by COVID-19.

— Madeline St. Amour

Pelosi to Propose More for Higher Education, Relief for Borrowers

March 23, 2:20 p.m. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said House Democrats will propose slightly more aid for higher education institutions than Republicans proposed in the Senate. While short on details, Pelosi said in a statement that the House Democratic proposal “pumps nearly $40 billion into schools and universities, with $30 billion directly provided to states to help them stabilize their funding for schools and nearly $10 billion to help alleviate the harm caused by coronavirus on higher education institutions, while providing them with added flexibility to continue operating during the crisis.”

She added that “the legislation also helps current borrowers with their student debt burden and GI Bill benefits. We also bolster SNAP and other initiatives to address food insecurity.”

Associations representing colleges and universities were alarmed that the proposal from Senate Republicans included $6 billion for institutions.

— Kery Murakami

House Dems: $30,000 in Student Loan Relief for Each Borrower

March 23, 2 p.m. As the Senate again failed to garner enough votes Monday afternoon to consider a stimulus package of more than $1 trillion proposed by Republicans, progressive House Democrats pressed for an even larger cancellation of student debt than Senate Democrats have proposed.

One of the unresolved issues dividing Democratic and Republican senators has been whether to cancel debt. Republicans only want to suspend loan payments for six months. Democrats want the federal government to make the payments for borrowers with federal student loans and to reduce their balance by at least $10,000 each.

Meanwhile, as House Democrats prepare their own proposal, Representatives Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, on Monday introduced a bill in which the federal government would make monthly payments on behalf of borrowers. But this proposal would guarantee canceling up to $30,000 of student loan debt per borrower.

It’s unclear how much support the proposal has even among House Democrats. Politico reported on Sunday that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin she wants a package dealing with the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak to include at least $10,000 in debt cancellation.

Last week Pressley and Omar were among 27 House Democrats to urge Pelosi in a letter to include debt cancellation in any stimulus bill. But they did not mention a dollar figure.

Kery Murakami

Amy Klobuchar’s Husband Tests Positive

March 23, 1 p.m. John Bessler, a professor and husband of Amy Klobuchar, the U.S. senator and former Democratic presidential candidate, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

Bessler is a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law. He became ill while in Washington, D.C., subsequently quarantined himself and stopped going to work, according to a statement from Klobuchar, who is in Minnesota.

He is now at a hospital in Virginia and is on oxygen but is not on a ventilator.

“I love my husband so very much and not being able to be there at the hospital by his side is one of the hardest things about this disease,” Klobuchar said in her statement.

— Madeline St. Amour

SNHU Creates Training for Drive-Through Testing

March 23, 12:35 p.m. Southern New Hampshire University on Monday unveiled a suite of free resources in light of the novel coronavirus, including modules on how to run a drive-through COVID-19 test site.

The private nonprofit college is offering online trainings and education resources for educators, front-line workers and health-care workers, according to a news release.

One of the microcredentials offered is targeted at health-care workers, like retail pharmacy technicians, volunteer health-care workers and EMTs. The free training will teach those workers how to operate drive-through testing sites for the virus.

“The spread of COVID-19 has shown us the critical importance of collaboration and helping those in need,” Paul LeBlanc, president and CEO of the university, said in the release. “This work together is both a sign of solidarity, and a sign of our collective commitment to the good and wellbeing of all people.”

Southern New Hampshire is partnering with Guild Education, a for-profit company that helps companies offer education assistance programs to employees, and Penn Foster, a for-profit high school, for those trainings. The three organizations have also compiled resources for front-line workers who can’t work from home during this time and need guidance on how to remain safe.

The microcredentials will give employees badges or certificates they can show to employers. Topics include personal finance management, maintaining mental health and leading in uncertain times.

The university, which specializes in online education, is also providing free information on how to get an online course up and running, as well as a set of online modules for K-12 instructors.

— Madeline St. Amour

ETS Unveils At-Home Versions of GRE and TOEFL

March 23, 9:30 a.m. The Educational Testing Service today unveiled a GRE and a TOEFL that can be taken at home. The tests were designed to be taken on a computer with live human proctoring.

“These at-home solutions are identical in content, format, on-screen experience, scoring and pricing,” said a statement from ETS.

The tests, which are open for registration today, will initially only be given in certain countries:

  • United States
  • Canada
  • Colombia
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • Hong Kong (China)
  • Macau (China)

“ETS is working toward making these at-home solutions available in additional locations in the coming weeks,” the statement said.

— Scott Jaschik

(Note: Previous updates are available in this archive.)

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