Cases Spike at Universities Nationally

Most colleges and universities have now begun classes and brought students to campus all over the country. Several of those institutions, especially large ones, are now seeing outbreaks of COVID-19 among students. Many of the most visible and serious outbreaks are in the Southeast United States. The University of Alabama has had over 500 cases at its Tuscaloosa campus, for example, and Auburn University has seen over 200 cases this week alone. The University of Miami reported 141 after the first week of class, and the University of Kentucky has seen 250 cases so far. In some examples, the shock of those case counts is tempered by considering high enrollment numbers and a low positivity rate. The University of Kentucky, for example, enrolls over 30,000 students, and its positive results as a share of tests reach only 1.1 percent.

The Forgotten Year: Applying Lessons from Freshman Success to Sophomore Year

This new research develops a set of indicators for sophomore year, building on 15 years of evidence around Freshman OnTrack and Chicago Public Schools’ work using data and supports for freshmen to successfully increase graduation rates. Freshman year remains the most critical and the most predictive of future high school graduation. However, nearly one-half of CPS students who were off-track at the end of sophomore year had been on-track at the end of freshman year, and the graduation rate for these students declined significantly. Monitoring students who are at risk and providing additional support during sophomore year is critical on the path to graduation and college.

Higher Ed’s Moment of Truth

As fall fast approaches, a steady stream of colleges have backed away from plans for an in-person semester in favor of a largely virtual one, citing the worsening course of the coronavirus pandemic. But many other colleges are pushing ahead with plans for in-person classes, and students have already started moving in at some colleges that have implemented mask mandates, installed Plexiglas barriers in communal bathrooms and classrooms, and placed hand-sanitizing stations throughout their campuses. Observers are questioning how college leaders are balancing the health and safety of faculty, staff, students and members of surrounding communities with the financial and political pressures driving the push to reopen campuses. Are they striking the right balance? Some don’t think so.

Updating “Normal”: Who Are Illinois’ College Students Today, and What Support Do They Need to Succeed?

In the span of only a few months, higher education as we know it has changed. COVID-19 has left postsecondary institutions scrambling with wrenching institutional challenges. Among the urgent questions they face are: if and how to offer equitable and effective instruction online; if and how to resume in-person instruction; and if and how to maintain operations amid an economic crisis and rapidly contracting enrollment. The current crisis bookends an era of immense changes to the higher education system.
Compared with those at the turn of the Millennium, students today are taking longer to graduate, the college completion gap between white and African American and Latinx students is increasing, and college graduates have 40 percent more college debt than students a decade ago. Colliding trends contribute to those troubling outcomes for students: the public’s steep disinvestment in higher education and a higher education system that has not fully kept up with the changing needs of today’s college students.

Displaced Workers and Public College Enrollment

Amid mass layoffs, some workers are pursuing further education—but not many. A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that for every 100 displaced workers, only one ends up enrolling at a public college. The report used data from 2002 to 2009 in Ohio to see how mass layoffs impacted enrollment at two- and four-year public colleges. While the findings were a statistically significant positive relationship of about one percentage point, that isn’t the best colleges could hope for, Scott-Clayton said. These findings are even more relevant now, she said, as the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a national recession and mass unemployment.

The Many Forms of Postsecondary Inequity

It’s unlikely to surprise anybody who reads this website closely or regularly that different groups of students succeed in higher education at widely varying rates. New federal data, however, highlight just how many characteristics can appear to be an advantage—or a disadvantage—when it comes to postsecondary attainment and completion. A set of studies released by the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics in the last several weeks digs deeply into the center’s 2012-17 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study to reveal how students who first enrolled in college in 2011 fared within six years, with a focus on their rates of persistence, attainment, transfer and withdrawal. The two most recent reports, released last week, focus on “Six-Year Persistence and Attainment at Any Institution for 2011-12 First-time Postsecondary Students” and “Six-Year Withdrawal, Stopout and Transfer Rates for 2011-12 First-time Postsecondary Students.”

Ed Dept. Issues Final Distance Learning Rule

The U.S. Department of Education has released its final rule on distance learning, which it said would modernize regulations. “The Department’s regulations regarding distance learning had not kept pace with advances in technology and they created tremendous uncertainty for institutions about what kinds of innovations were permissible, including innovations in team-approaches to instruction,” said a fact sheet about the rule, which will not go into effect until July 1, 2021. The product of months of negotiations by a panel of experts, the final rule would among other things allow more flexibility to “emphasize demonstration of learning rather than seat time when measuring student outcomes,” the fact sheet said.

5 financial issues schools will face due to the coronavirus-induced recession

The education sector was still feeling effects from the Great Recession when the coronavirus pandemic shuttered school buildings this spring, sending the country into economic shock — one that is expected to be much worse than the 2007-2009 recession. Prior to the pandemic, more than 20 states were spending less per K-12 pupil post-Great Recession, and in nine states, those expenditure levels were still declining. Across the nation, cuts to state education budgets made during the last recession are being linked to sizable and long-lasting losses in student achievement and outcomes. Here, we’ve gathered insights from experts and reports about what financial issues district leaders should watch out for as they navigate the 2020-21 school year.

It’s Past Time

In the chaos of a pandemic, colleges are still planning ahead—planning how they’ll return to campus or preparing to stay online for the fall semester, as well as perhaps prepping for a series of rolling closures throughout the year as pockets of COVID-19 outbreaks pop up near their institutions. But one thing it doesn’t appear many colleges are doing is planning for a worst-case scenario: permanent closure. Even before the pandemic took hold, many colleges were operating on razor-thin margins, with the enrollment trends and demographics of many colleges working against them. Thousands of institutions delicately balance their budgets by maintaining a steady supply of students, heavily dependent on their tuition dollars. Over the last five years, a number of college campuses enrolling hundreds of thousands of students in the United States have shuttered completely—sometimes without warning, so that students have been left with debt, no degree and nowhere to transfer their credits and finish their programs.

Empty classrooms, studios and stages: In the covid-19 era, an arts education requires an even greater leap of faith

Louis Sokolow, a 21-year-old rising senior at Yale, loves choral singing so much that he scrapped plans to major in chemistry and switched to music. But when he learned that classes this fall would be online, and that there would be no choirs, concerts or glee club, he decided he’d had enough. As the coronavirus continues to trample the arts from the ground up, Sokolow is doing what America’s performing-arts schools and departments fear most: He’s questioning their relevance. Instead of going back to school, Sokolow is taking a gap year. “There’s just something lost not being with people in a room,” Sokolow says from his parents’ home in Brookline, Mass. He has taken a job with the U.S. Census Bureau, and hopes that a year from now, the pandemic will be controlled enough “that choral singing can be a possibility again.”

What Should It Mean to Be Liberally Educated in the 21st Century?

Derek Bok, the only person to twice serve as Harvard’s president, is a rarity in higher education: a college leader whose top priority is the quality of undergraduate education. Now 90, Bok has published a new book—his 17th, by my count—which takes a position decidedly out of step with other presidents: he calls for a radical reimagining of general education requirements. His proposal is audacious: that colleges should do two things that institutions have studiously avoided—to create a gen ed curriculum that explicitly tries to shape students’ character and outlook and to prepare undergraduates for the 21st-century economy. Bok’s willingness to speak his mind bluntly was evident early.

COVID-19 Roundup: Cases Spike, and Students Punished

Another week in the strange world we’ve all become accustomed to got off to a rough start Monday with the crashing of Zoom, the videoconferencing platform on which many colleges have come to depend for instruction. The blackout came on what was the first day of classes at many institutions, as our Madeline St. Amour documents elsewhere on Inside Higher Ed. That was far from the only major development, though, as COVID-19 cases spiked in Alabama and North Carolina, and Ohio State University and other institutions punished students for violating campus rules regarding social distancing and partying.

Don’t Rely on Black Faculty to Do the Antiracist Work

For centuries, Black people have experienced racialized terrorism and dehumanization in the United States. Every day, we carry the weight that accompanies the acknowledgment that our lives, being and existence are not protected or valued. The workplace, where we spend and dedicate most of our time, is an institution that perpetuates systemic oppression and reminds us of the breadth and depth of anti-Blackness in work culture and climate. Specifically, the academy devalues the work (in and out of the classroom), creativity, research and commitment of Black faculty.

Students in Massachusetts early college program enrolling in college, applying for federal aid at higher rates than school peers

Students who graduate from early college programs at Massachusetts high schools are enrolling in college and applying for federal aid at higher rates than their school peers, according to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. Two-thirds of students enrolled in early college programs identify as Black or Latinx, officials said Wednesday, which indicates the program could help close academic gaps that disproportionately affect students of color.

Alternative Credentials on the Rise

Shorter-term, online alternatives to the college degree are having a moment. A growing body of evidence has found strong consumer interest in recent months in skills-based, online credentials that are clearly tied to careers, particularly among adult learners from diverse and lower-income backgrounds, whom four-year colleges often have struggled to attract and graduate. The reasons alternative credentials are piquing the interest of more Americans are not new, nor surprising. For years the demographics of higher education have been shifting away from traditional-age, full-paying college students while online education has become more sophisticated and accepted.

The Corner That State Universities Have Backed Themselves Into

The COVID-19 disaster has come to college with startling speed. Within a week of reopening, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had reported four clusters of five or more cases in two residence halls, a private apartment complex housing some students, and a fraternity, forcing the school to frantically backtrack on its plans. Michigan State was not far behind, suspending in-person classes in the face of COVID-19 concerns. This crisis was not only predictable; it was predicted. And yet even now, many other public universities across the country appear to be holding to the same plans, praying that the plague of COVID-19 will pass them over. Why have so many colleges, despite all the warnings, chosen to reopen anyway? To understand how they worked themselves into this impossible situation, one must look to the web of institutional and economic conditions that were slowly ruining American universities before the pandemic.

State University No More: Out-of-State Enrollment and the Growing Exclusion of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students at Public Flagship Universities

Public flagship state universities have long been the dominant “engines of social mobility” for high-achieving, low-income students. These institutions were founded to provide what University of Michigan President James Angell referred to in the late 1800s as “an uncommon education for the common man” who could not afford tuition at elite private institutions. Public flagship universities have more potential to help talented, low-income students realize their full potential than any other type of postsecondary institution. Yet, contemporary debates about access inequality often focus on selective private institutions. This despite the fact that these boutique colleges enroll a tiny share of the total number of undergraduates in the United States and cannot deliver social mobility en masse.

Higher ed board vows ‘equitable systemic change’ in Utah’s public colleges

The Utah Board of Higher Education adopted a resolution Friday for a systemic change in the state’s system of colleges and universities. Recent racial and social justice movements worldwide have “amplified calls to evaluate, reform and eradicate systemic racism and structural equity disparities,” the resolution notes. The resolution calls for creation of a workgroup to examine diversity, equity and inclusion in the Utah higher education system. It also requires “an equity lens framework” for higher education leaders and efforts to close statewide inequities. The board set a Nov. 20 deadline for its standing committees to develop “equity-driven” priorities and measurable goals.

Better Together: Expanding Access and Opportunity Through Community-Based Organization and College Partnerships

Over at least a half-century, the most selective U.S. colleges have partnered with K-12 schools, local organizations, nonprofits, philanthropists, and policymakers to address a shared imperative: enroll and graduate more young people from lower-income and first-generation backgrounds as well as communities of color, thus expanding pathways to opportunity and workforce success. While they have made significant strides in this effort, thousands of talented students across the United States continue to fall through the cracks, lacking the support, advising, and information needed to apply to and enroll in a postsecondary option that could change their trajectory. Each year, tens of thousands of students from lower-income backgrounds have the credentials to enroll in the nation’s more selective colleges, but instead choose less selective institutions. This trend, called under-matching, has a ripple effect that spans the postsecondary pipeline. More than half of students at selective colleges ultimately come from families in the top fifth of the income distribution, and more than 75% of bachelor’s degree recipients come from families in the top half of the income distribution. Colleges require additional assistance now more than ever to realize a longstanding imperative; both as a part of their individual missions and for the public good. This report makes the case for how community-based organizations are best positioned to provide that assistance, connecting thousands of talented minority and first-generation students and students from lower-income backgrounds to the colleges and universities they deserve to attend. For young people with limited postsecondary exposure and resources, decisions about applying, traveling to, and attending college are fraught with uncertainty, made even more challenging by complex application, financial aid, and enrollment processes. Studies show that community-based organizations can generate promising gains in academic engagement, applications for financial aid, and postsecondary enrollment, remedying longstanding imbalances in the supports that students can leverage to access needed resources or advice.

Taking It to the Limit: Effects of Increased Student Loan Availability on Attainment, Earnings, and Financial Well-Being

Growing reliance on student loans and repayment difficulties have raised concerns of a student debt crisis in the United States. However, little is known about the effects of student borrowing on human capital and long-run financial well-being. The authors use variation induced by recent expansions in federal loan limits, together with administrative schooling, earnings, and credit records, to identify the effects of increased student borrowing on credit-constrained students’ educational attainment, earnings, debt, and loan repayment. Increased student loan availability raises student debt and improves degree completion, later-life earnings, and student loan repayment while having no effect on homeownership or other types of debt. Despite concerns that students are “overborrowing,” these findings are most consistent with students underborrowing for college, on average. The results also directly inform federal policymakers when considering changes to current loan limits and suggest that raising borrowing limits for dependent students would likely increase human capital accumulation and improve credit outcomes. In addition to the policy insight gained from this paper, the results offer direct evidence of the consequences of binding credit constraints for higher education in the United States. The predictions of a simple credit constraints model are borne out empirically: Increasing access to student loans increases both borrowing and human capital.