Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education

House Passes HEROES Act. Next Move Unclear

May 15, 10 p.m. The $3 trillion HEROES Act, seen mainly as a statement of Democrats’ desires in future negotiations with the Republican Senate over another coronavirus relief package, passed the House of Representatives, 208 to 199 in a largely partisan vote on Friday.

What happens next is unclear, but no action is expected until at least June, after Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess.

Senate Republican leaders already have said the measure is dead on arrival. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants to assess with the Trump administration what impact $3 trillion approved in previous packages has had before considering more aid, and a higher education lobbyist said Republicans don’t appear to be working actively on crafting their own proposal.

The HEROES Act, Democrats’ proposal that includes a wide range of aid including another round of up to $1,200 per person in payments to Americans, had been supported by higher education groups like the American Council on Education. It includes $500 billion in aid the nation’s governors have sought to soften cuts they anticipate having to make in state budgets, including reductions in funding for colleges and universities. 

On Friday, Michigan’s Senate estimated the state will have to slash $2.6 billion in the current budget year, which ends in September, and that the state will have $3.3 billion less in revenue to spend in next year’s budget than expected, The Detroit News reported.

The proposal passed by the U.S. House of Representatives sets aside $27 billion in additional funding going to states for higher education for public institutions. It was also drafted to carve out more than $10 billion for colleges and universities​, including $1.7 billion for historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions. 

“This bill contains significant new funding for higher education institutions that will help alleviate the crippling financial impact posed by the coronavirus,” the American Council on Education, which lobbies for colleges and universities, said in a statement. “Such support will not only assist institutions in surviving the current crisis, but will stabilize thousands of communities whose economies are anchored by colleges and universities.”

Groups pushing for canceling student debt, however, were disappointed when Democrats scaled back a proposal to write off $10,000 from every student borrowers’ debt, citing the cost​. The bill now only reduces the debt of economically distressed borrowers, defined as those who were in default, delinquent, in forbearance, in deferral, or who would qualify for a $0 payment in an income-driven repayment plan as of March 12. 

— Kery Murakami

Debt Cancellation Advocates Upset Over Change in HEROES Act

May 15, 4:25 p.m. As the U.S. House of Representatives began debating the Democrats’ new $3 trillion coronavirus relief package, groups pushing for canceling student debt were disappointed by a late change in the legislation, called the HEROES Act.

Democrats had originally proposed writing off $10,000 of every borrowers’ debt. But a Democratic aide on the House education committee said the price tag ended up being higher than expected so Democrats opted to focus the help on those most in need.The bill now would only cancel the debt of economically distressed borrowers. Such borrowers were defined as those who were in default, delinquent, in forbearance, in deferral or who would qualify for no payment under an income-driven repayment plan as of March 12.

Kyle Southern, higher education policy and advocacy director for Young Invincibles, a millennial advocacy group, said before the House passed the package that he’s heard the change was made out of concern over cost.

“Retreating here — on one of the most critical issues, before the bill is even on the House floor — shows a low priority for so many people whose student loan debts will weigh on them for a long time forward,” Southern said. “It’s disappointing that they’re already ceding this opportunity to support those borrowers, who should be the main people building an economic recovery.”

Nine groups, including Americans for Financial Reform, expressed their disappointment in a statement.

— Kery Murakami

 Michigan Projects Having to Make $6 Billion in Cuts 

May 15, 4:20 p.m.  As the U.S. House of Representatives prepared to vote today on a new coronavirus relief package that would give $500 billion in aid to states, news from Michigan illustrated what that aid would mean to higher education — even though Senate Republicans have already declared the package, the HEROES Act, dead on arrival..

A Michigan Senate forecast said the state, bludgeoned financially by the coronavirus epidemic, will have to cut $2.6 billion from the last few months of its current budget, which runs through September, The Detroit News reported. And it will have $3.3 billion less to spend in next year’s budget.

Daniel Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, told Inside Higher Ed in an interview that he’s concerned colleges will have their funding slashed in a state that already ranks 44th nationally in per capita higher education funding. Michigan became the latest state to announce it will be making major budget cuts as it feels the effects of shuttered businesses, rising unemployment and additional health care costs during the pandemic.

News of the coming cuts, Hurley said, “is simultaneously unsurprising, yet surreal because of its magnitude.”

— Kery Murakami

Canadian Work Permit Will Accept Online Study

May 15, 2:35 p.m. Canada is changing its Post-Graduation Work Permit rules for international students who want to study in the country this fall.

The permit lets international students work in Canada for up to three years after completing a program at a designated institution. Students must complete a full-time program that lasts at least eight months to be eligible for the permit.

Typically, online courses don’t count toward this requirement, according to the Canada Immigration Newsletter. But because of the pandemic, Canada is letting students study online while overseas to receive eligibility.

The program is highly popular because it gives people an advantage when submitting immigration applications. ​

— Madeline St. Amour

Guidance From Ed Department Delayed Aid Disbursements

May 15, 2:30 p.m. The ​National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators surveyed its member institutions about the disbursement of emergency aid grants to students and found that most are still struggling due to confusing and inconsistent guidance from the U.S. Department of Education.

April 21 guidance from the department mandated that grants from the federal CARES Act stimulus package be limited to Title IV-eligible students. Many NASFAA member institutions said the guidance caused difficulties in issuing the grants to students in a timely manner.

Less than one-third of the institutions who responded to the survey said they had disbursed the grants to students. Of those who have yet to do so, 42 percent said they are waiting on additional guidance.

About 72 percent of respondents to the survey said the department’s guidance didn’t provide enough direction. More than 80 percent said the multiple rounds of guidance that the department released at least somewhat delayed their ability to disburse the aid.

After the late-April guidance was issued, more than half of respondents said they had to greatly alter their plans for distribution.

The department has faced much criticism for its guidance. The California Community Colleges system is suing the department for ruling that undocumented students aren’t eligible for aid under the CARES Act.

— Madeline St. Amour

16 Subcontractors at Appalachian State Test Positive

May 15, 11:45 a.m. A significant number of people working at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., tested positive for COVID-19 infections.

Sixteen subcontractors have tested positive, Appalachian State said in a news release yesterday after it learned of the positive tests from the Appalachian District Health Department. The department found some university employees who were potentially exposed, and one tested positive, a case that was already reported May 7.

None of the subcontractors who tested positive live in Watauga County, the county where Appalachian State is located. Appalachian State leaders say those affiliated with the university are not directly at risk.

“The contractor has engaged in a thorough cleaning at the job site and workers will remain off campus until cleared by public health to return,” it said in its news release.

All subcontracted workers will be required to wear masks and maintain physical distance. University employees who are working on campus are required to do the same.

— Rick Seltzer

University of Akron to Drop 3 Sports

May 15, 7:40 a.m. The University of Akron announced it will eliminate three intercollegiate athletics programs — men’s cross country, men’s golf and women’s tennis — at the end of this academic year. The cuts will reduce the university’s financial support for its athletics department by $4.4 million, or 23 percent, according to the announcement.

Earlier this month the university said it will cut six of its 11 academic colleges, saying at the time that its revenue had declined by $65 million.

“With the elimination of these three sports, we anticipate that 32 student-athletes (23 males and 9 females), three coaches and one graduate assistant coach will be affected. Of the student athletes, five are currently seniors who will have exhausted their eligibility during the 2019-20 academic year, and two were unable to complete their senior year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and may seek to compete another year at a different institution if they so choose,” the university said in another statement.

Akron said its “current financial situation does not allow the university to be able to continue to offer and provide athletics scholarships to current student athletes in the sports of men’s cross country, men’s golf and women’s tennis moving forward.”

— Paul Fain

Survey: Best Practices in Online Education for Research Universities

May 14, 3:45 p.m. Sixty percent of faculty respondents to a new survey on online education at research universities say they taught a distance learning course prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some 22 percent of business and economics professors in the sample are using WebEx for remote instruction, the survey found, while all art, theater and music instructors are using Zoom. Instructors from universities with the lowest tuition rates were much more likely than the rest of the sample to prefer course delivery through their institutional leaning management system. Older instructors surveyed and those in the arts and humanities were most likely to cite their libraries as a major source of support in the transition to remote instruction.

Primary Research Group conducted the survey of 73 professors from 48 research institutions in the U.S. and elsewhere. Among other data, the full, paywalled report includes detailed comments from professors on their experiences with remote instruction thus far.

— Colleen Flaherty

Remote Instruction Only This Fall for Harvard Medical School

May 14, 9:55 a.m. Harvard Medical School announced that all of its fall courses for entering classes of medical, dental and graduate students will be conducted remotely. The school said it hopes to hold in-person research and clinical experiences for returning medical and graduate students.

Academic program leaders will soon communicate details and preparations for the fall with students and faculty and staff members, according to the announcement.

The school said,

We hope to have all of our students back on campus by January, but we are mindful of the many unknowns and will update our projections as new information becomes available. In the meantime, please know that we are committed to delivering high-quality, transformative educational experiences to our students. We are confident that we can uphold the excellence that is the signature of a Harvard education. We are also committed to assisting our teaching faculty in designing online courses that meet these high standards and in supporting technologies that bolster our teaching and learning initiatives.

— Paul Fain

Senator Alexander Sounds Positive Note on Reopening Campuses

May 13, 8:51 p.m. Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate’s education committee, on Sunday questioned whether testing capacities for COVID-19 were adequate to reopen a large university campus in August. He expanded on those thoughts during a Fox News interview today.

“If I were president of a university today, I would be planning on going back to school,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview.

The exchange follows.

Fox News: Thanks so much for being on this morning and Rufus [Alexander’s dog], welcome to America’s Newsroom as well. You referenced the University of Tennessee and the ability to open large universities and college campuses come the fall. You said you’re concerned about that, while you heaped praise on the administration for the number of tests that have been conducted in this country so far. You suggested that we’re still not where we need to be to, say, open the University of Tennessee in September, so what needs to be done? What are you calling on as far as more testing so that we can get kids back to school?

Senator Alexander: I’m glad you gave me a chance to do that. I think I created a little confusion there. Dr. Fauci was talking about treatments and vaccines. That’s what he works on, and everyone knows that vaccines aren’t going to be ready by August, and that some treatments medicines will be. But the good news was that tests should be, and if I were president of a university today, I would be planning on going back to school. I know that the University of Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State University is, and many other colleges are. And what I would do to answer your question is I would test every student as they came back. Every faculty member. That doesn’t eliminate the disease, but it creates a place to isolate anybody sick and it creates confidence that it’s a safe place. I would work on spacing. I would have administrative staff stay home who weren’t needed there. I would stagger the opening of school so that students arrived at different times. Faculty members can teach remotely. There are a number of steps. Masks can be used. We may have to have a culture of masks on college campuses for a while, but I think most students are looking forward to going back to college. And I think because of the advances in testing that we’re now making in this country, they’ll be able to.

Fox News: And then shortly after your hearing, as you probably know, the [California State University system] said, no, we’re not coming back this fall. So you’ve got Americans waking up this morning saying, well, the chairman of this committee is telling us testing is being ramped up and you can send your kids back to campus this fall. And meanwhile, the University of California [sic] is saying, nope.

Senator Alexander: One great thing about our country is states could do what they want to do. Tennessee colleges, I think, are going back to school. President Mitch Daniels of Purdue University, which has 55,000 students, he’s already announced they’re planning to come back and they’re developing plans that university will use to keep the students safe, and the students want to come back. So it’ll be a state-by-state, campus-by-campus decision. But I believe as principals and headmasters and chancellors and university presidents and students look at August, they’ll become increasingly comfortable with going back to school.

— Paul Fain​

Pence, DeVos Hold Call With 14 College Presidents

May 13, 5:33 p.m. Vice President Mike Pence held a call today with leaders of 14 colleges and universities. They were joined by Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, and Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, in a discussion about “best practices to get students back to school in the fall,” according to a news release from the vice president’s office.

The group discussed a guidance document the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this year about how colleges should plan, prepare and respond to COVID-19.

“These college and university leaders discussed possible options to re-open their campuses for students, faculty and staff safely and responsibly,” the release said. “Many participants on the call discussed working groups they developed on campus to provide data-driven strategies for re-opening. Participants discussed the importance of opening and maintaining research labs to assist with COVID-19 research, testing and tracing.”

Participating in the call were:

  • President of Purdue University and the 49th governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels Jr.
  • President of University of Texas-El Paso and the 24th secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson
  • President of Hillsdale College Larry Arnn
  • President of Marquette University Michael Lovell
  • President of the University of Virginia James E. Ryan
  • Chancellor of the University of Alabama system Fess St. John IV
  • President of the University of Florida W. Kent Fuchs
  • President of the University of Notre Dame Reverend John Jenkins
  • President of Carnegie Mellon University Farnam Jahanian
  • President of the Ohio State University Dr. Michael V. Drake
  • President of Stanford University Marc Tessier-Lavigne
  • President of Wake Forest University Nathan Hatch
  • President of Arizona State University Michael Crow
  • President of Hampton University William R. Harvey

— Paul Fain

Pine Manor College to Merge With Boston College

May 13, 4:50 p.m. Pine Manor College, a small private institution located in Chestnut Hill, Mass., has signed an agreement to merge with Boston College, according to a news release from BC. The integration will be an “educational partnership of mutual benefit,” according to the release.

“The agreement will establish the Pine Manor Institute for Student Success, endowed with $50 million from Boston College, which will fund outreach and academic support programs for underserved, low-income students,” Boston College said.

If accreditors and state agencies approve the merger, Boston College will assume responsibility for Pine Manor and its assets and liabilities. Pine Manor’s students will be able to remain at the institution as part of a two-year teach-out agreement, the release said. BC will subsidize Pine Manor’s cost of operations during that period.

“According to the MOU, Pine Manor College faculty and staff not engaged in the continued functioning of Pine Manor College can apply for positions at Boston College,” the release said. “Pine Manor faculty and staff not retained will be eligible for outplacement assistance and severance. In addition, Pine Manor College alumnae will be engaged in fostering knowledge of the history and contributions of Pine Manor College.”

Pine Manor enrolls 423 students, according to the most recent federal data. The college had struggled with tight finances in recent years but had been optimistic about its future, in part because of its location in greater Boston. But the pandemic pushed the college’s financial situation to the breaking point, according to a report from WBUR, a Boston NPR affiliate.

Thomas O’Reilly, Pine Manor’s president, said in a written statement,

Boston College and Pine Manor College are joining forces to advance the crucial mission of expanding educational opportunities for traditionally underserved and underrepresented students. Boston College brings strength, stability, outstanding programs and faculty, and a proven track record in serving this important demographic of students. Pine Manor College brings a distinctive educational model of proven success for underserved, underrepresented first-generation students owing to outstanding faculty and staff, programming and a commitment to social justice. It is a win-win for both institutions that will help preserve the mission and heritage of Pine Manor College through the Pine Manor Institute for Student Success at Boston College.

— Paul Fain

Hillsdale College: Remaining Closed in Fall ‘Hadn’t Occurred to Us’

May 13, 3:09 p.m. A day after the California State University system said it was planning for a virtual fall, the president of Hillsdale College said not opening for in-person classes in the fall had not occurred to the private, conservative college in Michigan.

Larry P. Arnn, Hillsdale’s president, delivered a short video statement to admitted students while standing in front of the college’s Central Hall, where he said students will pick up a packet on Aug. 23.

“There’s a bunch of astonishing stuff happening in the world,” including the virus, Arnn said. “But another astonishing thing is, first of all, some colleges are announcing that they are not intending to have in-person classes in the fall.”

Hillsdale’s campus will be open to students this fall, Arnn vowed.

“It hadn’t occurred to us, that we wouldn’t have college,” he said. “But now it has, because people ask us. Well, of course we’re going to have college.”

Arnn cited a few reasons behind that decision, including that college should feature learning about the world’s fundamental nature.

“We are humans. What does that mean to be a human?” he said. “It means we have to work. We’ll starve if we don’t. Also, by our work, we shape our characters and inform our intellects.”

The economy isn’t an abstraction that can be turned on and off, said Arnn. “This is what we do. We’ve been doing it for 175 years. We are going to keep doing it.”

The only hedge Arnn included in his address was that the college wouldn’t defy the law to reopen.

“If by some wicked chance, the law doesn’t let us do it, then we won’t,” he said. But that scenario is unlikely, said Arnn, and Hillsdale would turn that outcome into something good.

— Paul Fain

Moody’s Identifies Regional Publics and Small Privates as Colleges Most Likely to Face Financial Challenges

May 13, 12:10 p.m. About four in 10 colleges and universities whose debt Moody’s Investors Service rates are positioned well financially during the coronavirus crisis, one in 10 are heavily exposed to challenges, and the remaining half face differing degrees of stress.

That’s according to a new report the ratings agency released assessing credit risks for its U.S. higher education portfolio. Moody’s evaluation assumed a base case of colleges and universities resuming classes in the fall while facing various degrees of declining enrollment, diminished endowment income, falling state funding and lower philanthropic income. Risk would increase if campuses are closed in the fall, the report said.

The good news for investors is that colleges and universities that have issued the vast majority of debt in the sector are the same ones poised to stand up under coronavirus-related operational shocks. About 70 percent of private university debt and 85 percent of public university debt has been issued by institutions in Moody’s top two ratings categories. Generally speaking, they enjoy nationally recognized brands, broad market reach and strong management teams engaged in contingency or scenario planning.

Another 10 percent of the colleges and universities Moody’s rates face “more material credit risks” because of the pandemic, the ratings agency found. They have issued less than 3 percent of the debt Moody’s counts in the sector. Such colleges experience weak student demand even as they rely heavily on student-related revenue like tuition and fees. They also post thin operating margins and have little liquidity. They are often small private colleges or regional public universities in states where the number of high school graduates is expected to decline.

“Even assuming fall 2020 operations return to near-normal, colleges and universities already facing competitive challenges will likely confront greater enrollment volatility and will increase financial aid to bolster enrollment prospects,” the report said. “Issuers with higher proportions of international students are also vulnerable to heightened enrollment declines and resulting revenue drop-offs.”

The remaining half of colleges and universities whose debt Moody’s rates face different levels of exposure to risk amid the pandemic. While many are in position to keep their credit quality steady amid modest short-term decreases in revenue, they are likely to need to make “difficult decisions around people and programs” to offset declines.

“While the entire sector faces difficult credit conditions, strength of governance and management will be a key determinant of credit quality in the turbulent operating environment,” the Moody’s report said.

— Rick Seltzer

One-Third of Americans With Reduced Employment Found New Jobs

May 13, 10:02 a.m. About one-third (35 percent) of Americans who have lost a job, hours or income during the pandemic have started a new job in the past month, according to the latest results of a weekly survey conducted by Strada Education Network, a nonprofit group focused on pathways between education and employment. The survey is nationally representative, with 1,000 American adults responding each week.

The Strada Center for Consumer Insights has found that 53 percent of Americans have had their employment or income cut back in recent months. Among the 35 percent of those workers who said they found new jobs, 14 percent report having started a new full-time job, with 19 percent finding a new part-time job and 2 percent finding both a new full-time and new part-time job.

Americans with graduate or professional degrees are much more likely to have started a new job, the survey found (see below). Latino and black Americans are more likely to have started new jobs than white Americans, a finding that holds true across education levels. And Latino Americans are the most likely to have lost a job, income or hours.

“Among those who have lost work or income, the only meaningful difference we see is how much more likely workers with graduate or professional degrees are to have found new jobs,” Nichole Torpey-Saboe, director of research at the Strada Center for Consumer Insights, said in a statement. “We expected that workers with associate and bachelor’s degrees would be more likely to find new jobs as well, but to our surprise, they aren’t.”

— Paul Fain

N.J. Lawmaker Proposes Mandatory Tuition Refunds

May 13, 9:30 a.m. A New Jersey state senator has introduced a bill that would require colleges to provide students with refunds.

The proposed legislation would require institutions to refund 25 percent of tuition expenses for the spring semester. It would also require institutions to give proportional refunds for room and board expenses for the spring 2020 semester for any students who were required to vacate on-campus housing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Joseph Cryan, a Democratic state senator, introduced the bill on May 7.

The proposal comes as many students across the country sue their colleges and universities for partial tuition refunds because of the sudden switch to remote learning.

Several higher education experts on Twitter have criticized the bill, which comes after the state cut colleges’ funding in half for the remainder of the fiscal year.

— Madeline St. Amour ​

Calif. Athletic Association Suspends Competition for Fall

May 12, 7:25 p.m. The California Collegiate Athletic Association, an NCAA Division II conference comprised of 12 California State University campuses and the University of California, San Diego, has suspended all sports competition for the fall of 2020, the association said. The announcement follows earlier news that the Cal State system is using a “virtual planning approach” for the fall semester.

The association cited the system’s announcement and said the “utmost consideration for the health and welfare of our students, coaches, staff, faculty and communities” was behind the decision to drop fall competition.

“The CCAA member institutions will continue to advocate strongly to maintain NCAA championship opportunities for all of our student-athletes, including our fall sports, during the 2020-21 academic year and recommend competition resume when it is safe and appropriate to do so for all of its members,” Gayle Hutchinson, president of Chico State University and chair of the CCAA Board of Presidents, said in a statement.

— Paul Fain

House Dems Propose Spending for States, Colleges in Fourth Stimulus

May 12, 3:05 p.m. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have released a more than $3 trillion proposal for a fourth stimulus, which Republican leaders in Congress already have rejected, The Washington Post reported.

The HEROES Act includes proposed funding for state and local governments, health-care systems and a second batch of stimulus checks, among other components. It also includes $90 billion for a state fiscal stabilization fund for education, which state governments could use for K-12 schools and public colleges and universities.

According to a summary of the huge bill, the state stabilization funds could be used for personnel costs, mental health and other supports for students and staff members, sanitation costs, educational technology, training for faculty and staff members to use technology for distance learning, emergency financial aid for college students, and “general expenditures for institutions of higher education for expenses associated with a disruption in services or operations related to coronavirus, including defraying expenses due to lost revenue, reimbursement for expenses already incurred and payroll.”

The House Democrats’ plan also includes $10.15 billion to help “alleviate burdens associated with the coronavirus” for both students and colleges, including $1.7 billion for historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions.

The bill also would allocate $2 billion to support worker training.

— Paul Fain

Cal State System Planning for Virtual Fall

May 12, 2:32 p.m. The California State University system is using a “virtual planning approach” for the fall semester.

Timothy White, the system’s chancellor, announced the decision at a virtual Board of Trustees meeting.

Mikhail Zinshteyn, a reporter at CalMatters, first reported the news. The livestream on CSU’s website confirmed it.

White cited experts’ predictions that COVID-19 is likely to spike again at the end of the summer and again in flu season as the reason to take precautionary measures and to plan for virtual instruction to protect people’s safety.

However, he did leave open the possibility of resuming face-to-face instruction. As an example, he said the system needs to plan for virtual instruction even if fall classes resume as normal; if the virus resurges, they can quickly be transitioned to virtual courses.

But, most likely, courses will either use hybrid models or be solely virtual, White said. On-campus housing also will be limited.

Some courses, such as labs and clinicals, will likely stay in-person as resources allow.

“This virtual planning approach preserves as many options for as many students as possible,” White said. “Anything done on a campus this fall won’t be as it was done in the past.”

— Madeline St. Amour​

Student Altruism, Stress and Perceptions of News Trustworthiness

May 12, 2:25 p.m. Students are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in an “appropriate, altruistic and community-focused way,” but they remain concerned about how the crisis will affect their education, according to a new pair of surveys of roughly 750 undergraduates from the University of California, Irvine. Richard Arum, dean of Irvine’s School of Education and principal investigator of the Next Generation Undergraduate Success Measurement Project, of which the study is a part, told the campus news office, “We wanted to capture the moods, attitudes and anxieties our students are facing as traditional college life has been turned upside down.” The results are “informing how the entire university serves undergraduates, as we work to maintain high-quality learning experiences and promote mental and physical well-being.”

Survey respondents generally reported being more concerned for their larger community than for themselves, while their biggest source of personal stress is questions surrounding their academic progress during remote education. Many students nevertheless have new responsibilities related to caring for their families and siblings, including running errands, doing chores and cleaning. Their mental health hasn’t changed much since before the pandemic, despite all these changes, and they think that Irvine’s actions have met the appropriate level of stringency. Students also perceive information about COVID-19 from local and state authorities and governments and from the Centers for Disease Control as more trustworthy compared to information from President Trump.

— Colleen Flaherty

Fauci: Developing Vaccine by Fall Term Is ‘Bridge Too Far’

May 12, 2:10 p.m. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, told a Senate committee that the prospects of developing a vaccine by the fall to truly make college students comfortable enough to go back to campuses “is a bridge too far.” But he said that doesn’t mean students cannot return, depending on the amount of infections and available testing in an area.

Fauci’s comments came after he was asked by Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate’s health and education committee, what he could say to give the chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, comfort in reopening its campus for in-person instruction in the fall.

What’s needed to truly make students feel safe enough to go back to classes likely won’t be available in time, Fauci said at the hearing.

“The idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate re-entry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far,” he said, “even at the top speed we’re going.”

More broadly, Fauci warned that if cities or states try to return to normal life too quickly, it could “trigger an outbreak you cannot control.”

But asked later by Alexander to clarify, Fauci said he that didn’t mean students couldn’t go back to school. He agreed with Dr. Brett Giroir, the assistant U.S. secretary for health, who said colleges’ strategies for reopening will differ depending if large numbers of infections are in the surrounding area.

Giroir also said during the hearing that the administration expects to be able to conduct 25 million to 30 million tests a month by the fall, enabling colleges to test some students at different times for infections on campus. Giroir also said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is looking at experimental approaches to inform college administrators, like testing wastewater from residence halls to see if the virus is present.

That expected increase in testing, Alexander said, “should give every principal, every chancellor of every college” reassurance that a strategy can be developed to reopen for in-person classes in August.

Alexander, who participated in the hearing remotely after placing himself under self-quarantine after one of his staff members tested positive for the virus, repeated his comments from Meet the Press on Sunday that the nation’s increase in testing is “impressive.”

But, he said, currently “it is not nearly enough to provide confidence to 31,000 students and faculty that it is safe to return to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, campus in August.”

As House Democrats work toward proposing a new multitrillion-dollar coronavirus relief package as early as today, Alexander said the focus should be on increasing testing.

“There is not enough money available to help all those hurt by a closed economy. All roads back to work and back to school lead through testing, tracking, isolation, treatment and vaccines,” he said.

Kery Murakami

Ohio Community College Offers Free Tuition to Affected Students

May 12, 10:59 a.m. Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio will offer full tuition assistance for up to a year to students who are facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Full Tuition Assistance program will cover costs after grant aid is applied for up to three consecutive sessions in the academic year, or for a workforce training program, according to a news release.

Those who may be eligible for the program include students who lost their jobs or income due to the pandemic, graduating high school students who planned to attend a four-year college this fall but can’t due to financial hardship, and current college students who are or were enrolled at a four-year institution and can’t afford to return.

Students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, as well as a separate eligibility form to receive the assistance.

The Cuyahoga Community College Foundation is financing the program.

“These are uncertain times, but people don’t have to put their futures on hold,” Alex Johnson, president of the college, said in the release. “Thanks to the generous support of Tri-C Foundation donors, this program will allow people to earn a degree or credential in a high-demand field that pays a family-sustaining wage without incurring any tuition costs.”

— Madeline St. Amour ​

May 12, 10:30 a.m. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos exceeded her authority and violated the constitutional principle of separation of powers when she ruled undocumented and hundreds of thousands of other college students were not eligible for emergency grants in the CARES Act, the California community college system alleged in a federal lawsuit Monday.

The colleges and Eloy Ortiz Oakley, the system’s chancellor, are asking the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to rule DeVos’s exclusion of the students from the aid is unconstitutional, and to grant an injunction preventing the Education Department from blocking the colleges’ ability to provide the grants to students.

DeVos has come under fire for her interpretation that the stimulus package passed by Congress in March only allowed the grants to go to students who qualify for federal student aid.

The system said in a news release that the interpretation excludes about 70,000 undocumented students who attend California community colleges, including those who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children but who are allowed to live and work in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. However, critics like the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators said requiring students be eligible for student aid excludes many others, like those with below the minimum C grade point average required to get federal loans or grants, and others who are disqualified from receiving standard student aid for other reasons, like being in default in repaying student loans.

According to the lawsuit, the department’s interpretation affects far more than undocumented students. It excludes more than 800,000 community college students in California, or more than half of the estimated 1.5 million students enrolled across the system in the spring quarter.

Asked by Inside Higher Ed earlier this month to explain why DeVos believes the CARES Act excludes undocumented and other students, a department spokeswoman pointed at two sections of the stimulus law. One instructs the department to divvy up three-fourths of $12 billion in the bill for higher education institutions based on their number of low-income Pell Grant students. The other tells the department to distribute the stimulus aid to colleges and students in the same way it now distributes student aid.

In the department’s thinking, Congress, by making those references to financial aid, was telling DeVos it only wanted those who qualify for regular aid programs to get the emergency grants.

But according to the lawsuit, the CARES Act does not explicitly limit eligibility for the grants. As a result, the colleges argue it should be up to them to decide who should get the grants.

In addition to those denied the help, the suit alleged DeVos’s decision also hurts the colleges because they may have to use other funds to help the students, and the lack of aid could force some students to drop out, lowering the institutions’ aid and funding.

“The Department of Education ignored the intent of the CARES Act to give local colleges discretion to aid students most affected by the pandemic, and instead has arbitrarily excluded as many as 800,000 community college students,” Oakley said in a statement. “Among those harmed are veterans, citizens who have not completed a federal financial aid application and non-citizens, including those with DACA status.”

— Kery Murakami​

May 12, 9:20 a.m. The Florida Institute of Technology on Monday announced the immediate elimination of its football program and the closure of the Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts. The private institution located in Melbourne, Fla., said those moves, which come amid staff reductions and furloughs, are meant to reduce costs during the pandemic and recession.

“As I have continued to share with you, these are difficult times for our university,” Dwayne McCay, Florida Tech’s president, said in a written statement. “Indeed, all of higher education is struggling to deal with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the uncertainty that accompanies a global disruption to daily life. Some universities will no doubt close. Florida Tech, however, has plans to persevere.”

The university, which enrolls roughly 6,300 students, is eliminating some staff member positions later this month, while others will be furloughed. Many of the furloughed employees “are expected to be recalled to work” closer to the start of the fall semester, Florida Tech said.

The Florida Tech football program was founded in 2011, competed in NCAA Division II and was a member of the Gulf South Conference. The university said 120 students were on the football team. Football players who were receiving scholarships will have those awards honored for up to four years, the university said. Florida Tech spent $3.1 million on football during the 2018-19 academic year, reported The Tampa Bay Times.

“The unprecedented uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the university to make difficult personnel and programmatic decisions,” Florida Tech said in a Q&A about the decision. “Eliminating the expense of the football program is a necessary step to ensure that Florida Tech can continue meeting its core educational mission.”

In the Q&A on its website, Florida Tech cited other institutions that have eliminated intercollegiate athletics due to the recession and pandemic. They include:

  • Florida International University’s elimination of its men’s indoor track and field program;
  • Old Dominion University’s elimination of its wrestling program;
  • The University of Cincinnati’s elimination of its iconic men’s soccer program.

— Paul Fain

George Washington, Northwestern Address Budget Shortfalls

May 11, 4:20 p.m. George Washington University, in Washington. D.C., is projecting losses related to the coronavirus pandemic ranging from $100 million to $300 million over the upcoming fiscal year that starts July 1, the university announced Monday. The projected losses come on top of an estimated $25 million loss for the current fiscal year.

The chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, Grace Speights, said it would not be prudent to use funds from GW’s endowment, valued at $1.78 billion in 2019, to offset the losses, according to an article in the university publication GW Today. Thomas J. LeBlanc, the university’s president, said administrators are considering options for reducing expenses including pay or benefit reductions, early retirement options, furloughs, layoffs, reorganizations, consolidations and reductions in travel, training, and other expenses.

“The reality is, because a significant share of our budget is compensation, we will need to make personnel decisions that affect all of us,” LeBlanc said in a universitywide message.

Another wealthy university, Northwestern University, in Chicago, which as of 2019 had an $11.1 billion endowment, said Monday that it was projecting a roughly $90 million shortfall for the current fiscal year. Northwestern said it would temporarily increase the rate at which it draws from the endowment. The university also said it would furlough 250 staff members “who are unable to substantially perform their duties remotely or who support areas with significantly reduced workloads in the wake of the pandemic,” suspend contributions to faculty and staff members’ retirement accounts, and enact pay cuts for senior leaders.

— Elizabeth Redden

Community Colleges Got Disproportionately Less in CARES Act

May 11, 3:41 p.m. The CARES Act shortchanged two-year public colleges because of the way Congress structured higher education funding in the stimulus package, according to a study by the Center for American Progress.

The study, which recommended that Congress make changes if it sends more aid to colleges and universities in another stimulus package, noted that the CARES Act funding was based on the number of full-time-equivalent students colleges enroll, which worked against those with large numbers of part-time students.

As a result, while community colleges educate almost 40 percent of students, they only received about 27 percent of the CARES Act funds, the study found. Had the package based funding on the total number of students, public colleges of two years or fewer would have received 39 percent of the funding.

In addition, the study by Ben Miller, the group’s vice president of postsecondary education, found that private for-profit colleges received $1.1 billion in aid. Saying that the package didn’t provide enough help for public colleges, Miller argued that for-profits in a future package should only receive aid that goes to students through emergency grants. That would have increased the money public colleges got from the CARES Act by 2.2 percent, while excluding funding for for-profits entirely would have increased funding for publics by 10 percent, the study said.

— Kery Murakami

McGill Says Fall Courses Will Be Mostly Remote

May 11, 1:25 p.m. McGill University in Montreal announced today that courses in the fall semester will be mostly online.

“McGill’s Fall semester will start as scheduled, with the University committed to delivering the exciting, high quality, equitable educational experience for which McGill is known,” the university said in the announcement. “To allow McGill students to begin, or continue, their academic path no matter where they are, Fall 2020 courses will be offered primarily through remote delivery platforms.”

The institution in Canada’s Quebec province also said it is committed to providing extracurricular activities virtually. “The Fall 2020 semester will give newly admitted and returning McGill undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to connect with extraordinary classmates, learn from world-renowned experts, and exchange with other curious and brilliant minds from all around the world,” the university announced. Officials will be monitoring the public health situation and will look at possibilities for on-campus student life as restrictions are lifted.

— Lilah Burke

UVA to Announce Fall Plans in June

May 11, 10:45 a.m. Jim Ryan, the University of Virginia’s president, said Sunday that the university will make an announcement about its fall plans in mid-June.

“So, we are in the midst of trying to figure out how we can have as many students back on grounds in the fall and in classrooms and to do that safely,” Ryan said, according to a transcript of an interview on CBS News’ Face the Nation. “And we’re working night and day to figure out exactly how to do that, and we’ll make an announcement about the fall in mid-June. We’re trying to push back as far as we can so we’ll have the best information when we make the decision, but we also realize that people need to be able to make plans.”

Ryan said the university would need to test students for COVID-19 when they first arrive on campus in order to reopen for in-person instruction. UVA also would need to test faculty and staff members before students arrive, Ryan said. And the university would need to isolate students who have been exposed, as well as to have the ability to do contract tracing.

“And then we’re also going to need to enact a bunch of social distancing protocols in terms of how far away students need to be from each other in the classroom or in dining halls,” Ryan said. “As you can imagine, it’s a complicated task. College campuses are a difficult and challenging place for contagious viruses.”

When asked about the upcoming seasons for intercollegiate athletics, including football, Ryan said the university is taking it day by day. He said,

Obviously, we need to have students back on grounds before football can begin. But our athletic director, Carla Williams, and our head football coach, Bronco Mendenhall, are committed first and foremost to the safety and well-being of their players, our student athletes. And they’ll begin practice when the medical experts tell them that it’s safe to do so. Our hope, obviously, is that there’s a football season this fall. I don’t imagine it will look like normal football seasons, just like I don’t imagine even if we have all students back on grounds, it will look like a normal semester. It will not be a normal semester next fall, regardless of which path we follow.

— Paul Fain

Senator Alexander: Testing Levels Inadequate to Open College Campuses

May 11, 9:34 a.m. Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate’s education committee, on Sunday praised coronavirus testing in the U.S., citing Johns Hopkins University research that eight million tests have conducted, more per capita even than South Korea.

But Alexander said current testing capacity remains inadequate for reopening large college and university campuses for in-person instruction.

“It’s enough to do what we need to do today to reopen, for example, but it’s not enough when 35,000 kids and faculty show up at the University of Tennessee campus in August,” Alexander said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions plans to hold a hearing with Trump administration health experts on safely reopening schools and workplaces. Two of the four scheduled witnesses are self-quarantining amid worries about White House officials who have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days. Those witnesses will testify via videoconference, the committee said.

“The hearing is an opportunity for senators to hear an update from officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about what federal, state and local governments are doing to help Americans go back to work and back to school as rapidly and safely as possible,” according to a statement from the committee.

— Paul Fain

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