May 22, 10:42 a.m. Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, last month announced that undocumented college students and students who are not currently eligible to receive federal financial aid would not be able to receive emergency aid under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. The department said its hands were tied under the law. But a broad range of critics have disagreed, including higher education groups and Congressional Democrats. The California community college system and Washington State’s attorney general have sued the department over the decision.
Yesterday the department issued a statement about its take on the emergency aid grants, saying “guidance documents lack the force and effect of law.” That language led many in higher education to think that the Trump administration in essence would allow colleges to distribute the aid to DACA students.
However, several financial aid experts were unsure, saying the statement created more confusion than clarity. That’s because it also suggested undocumented students would be excluded from the aid because of restrictions in underlying laws.
“In contrast, the underlying statutory terms in the CARES Act are legally binding, as are any other applicable statutory terms, such as the restriction in 8 U.S.C. § 1611 on eligibility for federal public benefits including such grants,” the statement said.
Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, criticized the department for the lack of clarity in its statement.
“The latest Education Department guidance reads like a student’s effort to respond to an essay question on an exam when they have no idea what the answer is and so they throw in everything they can think of,” he said via email. “College financial aid officers are very conservative when it comes to following the rules. They want to know what is allowed and what is not so they don’t get in trouble years after the fact. Clarity is critically important and this, sadly, adds just another level of confusion and uncertainty.”
The feds also reiterated that the federal emergency aid grants could only be given to students who were eligible to receive federal financial aid. But the department said it continues to review the issue.
“The department continues to consider the issue of eligibility for HEERF emergency financial aid grants under the CARES Act and intends to take further action shortly,” the statement said.
Hartle said he suspected DeVos and the department in its guidance last month wanted to exclude DACA and international students from the stimulus grants, but didn’t want to mention them directly.
“This led the Education Department to issue exceptionally complex guidance that, in practical terms, eliminated all students who do not have a FAFSA on file. They realized that this was far narrower than what Congress intended. But having driven their eighteen-wheeler into a cul de sac, the Education Department can’t find a simple way out,” he said.
— Paul Fain
May 21, 2:15 p.m. What happened on spring break didn’t stay there, according to a new, preliminary study of COVID-19 transmission among and by millions of U.S. college students. Using smartphone location data, researchers sought to compare how the coronavirus spread in college towns with earlier breaks — where students had a chance to travel and return to campus prior to their universities shuttering — and those with later breaks, where students effectively saw their plans canceled.
Findings indicate that counties with more early spring break students had higher confirmed coronavirus case growth rates than counties with fewer early spring break students. Moreover, the increase in case growth rates peaked two weeks after students returned to campus — within the virus’s incubation period. Most seriously, and consistent with how the virus spreads to more vulnerable populations, the authors found an increase in mortality growth rates that peaked four to five weeks after early spring breakers returned.
By tracing spring breakers’ particular destinations and modes of travel, researchers also found that students who traveled through airports, to New York and to popular Florida spots were the worst contributors to their college towns’ COVID-19 spread. One major possible takeaway? Colleges and universities “have a unique capacity to reduce local COVID-19 spread by altering academic calendars to limit university student travel,” reads the study.
— Colleen Flaherty
May 21, 12:50 p.m. Colleges and universities around the country will have sufficient testing capacity and are taking the needed steps to safely reopen their physical campuses this fall, the head of the U.S. Senate’s education committee said in a discussion with reporters Thursday. He also vowed that Senate Republicans would ensure that colleges receive liability protection from potential lawsuits by students or employees who get sick if they return to campus — if Congress passes more legislation regarding COVID-19.
Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who is retiring this year, said he viewed the opening of schools and college campuses this fall as essential to restoring the American economy and society to a “sense of normalcy.”
“The surest sign that we’re beginning to regain the rhythm of American life will come when 70 million students go back to school and to college this fall,” Alexander said.
The senator said he held a call this morning with leaders from 90 of Tennessee’s 127 postsecondary institutions and that “all of them are planning to resume in-person classes in August” and are “using a variety of techniques to make sure their campus is safe.”
Alexander repeated several times that the keys to defeating the coronavirus, and to reopening campuses, were testing, treatments and vaccines, and said he was confident that colleges would have sufficient testing by this summer to enable them to quarantine students and staff members who were either infected or exposed.
He said testing was one of the three major concerns expressed by Tennessee college leaders he spoke with this morning, along with issues of liability and funding “flexibility.”
On liability, “they don’t want to be sued if they reopen their school and somebody gets sick,” Alexander said, adding that Congress “won’t pass another COVID bill unless it has liability protection.” He clarified later that he could not promise that Congress would pass a bill providing such protection, only that “if another COVID bill passes … you can be sure that Republican senators will insist that it provides liability protection for schools and businesses.”
On funding, he said the presidents want “more flexibility in any funding that we provide for colleges and in the funding we’ve already provided” as part of the CARES Act. He cited legislation filed this month that would give states more flexibility in how they use those already distributed funds.
Alexander said it was an “open question on whether there will be more funding for states and schools” coming from the federal government. “We should do that carefully,” he said, since Congress had “appropriated $3 trillion in about three weeks and some of that money hasn’t even been sent to the states yet.”
A few other choice comments from Alexander:
- In response to a reporter’s question about whether COVID-19-related immigration restrictions may stem the flow of international students to American colleges, he reiterated that the best way to stop the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. is through testing, treatments and vaccines — “not to restrict students who come from other countries to get their graduate degrees … talented students who companies here want to hire.”
- In describing some of the steps colleges should take to ensure physical distancing, he referred to them as “notorious wasters of space” and said they could spread their classes into the evenings and weekends.
— Doug Lederman
May 21, 11:30 a.m. Division I football and basketball programs can begin voluntary activities starting June 1, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Wednesday.
The NCAA’s Division I Council, the division’s legislative body, decided to allow activity such as training and the use of athletics facilities in the sports, so long as teams comply with local and state regulations about building capacity limits, the size of groups and other precautions, according to an NCAA press release. Athletes must initiate the activity themselves and coaches cannot direct or require athletes to report back about their training, the release said.
The council had instated a ban on such activity until May 31 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Also, the council will extend a waiver that allows teams to mandate athletes to perform virtual nonphysical activities through the end of June, an effort to accommodate athletes who cannot or do not feel comfortable returning to campus, the release said. Football programs at colleges across the country have been preparing for an on-time start to the 2020-21 season, aiming to have athletes begin preseason by mid-July despite the increased risk of COVID-19 infections due to the nature of college athletics.
Council chair Grace Calhoun, athletic director at the University of Pennsylvania, said institutions should “make the best decisions possible for football and basketball student-athletes” and use their discretion.
“Allowing for voluntary athletics activity acknowledges that reopening our campuses will be an individual decision but should be based on advice from medical experts,” Calhoun said in the NCAA release.
— Greta Anderson
May 21, 10:50 a.m. State lawmakers in Colorado cut $493 million from next year’s budget for the state’s public colleges and universities, Chalkbeat Colorado reported. But to prevent much of this financial hit, Jared Polis, the state’s Democratic governor, on Monday allocated $450 million in federal CARES Act stimulus money to public higher education.
The state’s budget cut would have been a 58 percent reduction from this year’s level of state support, according to Chalkbeat. The federal stimulus, however, means public colleges in Colorado are projected to be down by roughly 5 percent next year.
In his executive order, Polis said he was directing the federal money to the “Colorado Department of Higher Education for expenditures associated with actions to facilitate compliance with COVID-19-related public health measures and with the provision of economic support in connection with the COVID-19 emergency to stimulate the economy by supporting Colorado’s workforce through increasing student retention and completions at state institutions of public higher education. Institutions receiving such funds commit to raise by no more than 3 percent their FY 2020-21 resident undergraduate tuition rate, or to seek a waiver of this requirement from the governor’s office.”
— Paul Fain
May 21, 10:10 a.m. The University of California system is eyeing a fall in which campuses are open and likely employing hybrid methods of delivering learning, with mid-June emerging as a key decision point for campuses.
Janet Napolitano, the system’s president, told its Board of Regents Wednesday that “every campus will be open and offering instruction” in the fall, according to The Mercury News. Still at question is how much instruction will be conducted in person versus remotely, she added. But she said she expects “most, if not all of our campuses, will operate in some kind of hybrid mode.”
UC campuses would need to meet systemwide thresholds for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and isolation before they are allowed to open. Public health restrictions would still need to be considered as well.
After those hurdles are cleared, campuses will be able to consider remote instruction versus some students returning in person.
Napolitano’s remarks sound a different tone from the leaders of the California State University system. Cal State recently signaled courses for the fall are likely to be online.
The question of reopening campuses for in-person classes in the fall has been closely watched, with many college and university leaders announcing plans to hold at least some in-person classes if possible, sometimes with modified semester schedules. But some caution that the public health outlook remains unclear at best.
Any decision from the UC system stands out from others, however, because of its prominence and size. It enrolls about 285,000 students and includes some of the most competitive public university campuses in the country.
While the public health outlook may be uncertain, decisions about the fall will have a clear impact on finances. The coronavirus pandemic caused $1.2 billion in losses across the UC system from campuses shutting down from mid-March through the end of April, The Mercury News reported. UC, Berkeley, chancellor Carol Christ flagged revenue from athletics and residence halls as being especially at risk from the pandemic’s effects.
— Rick Seltzer
May 20, 4:55 p.m. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators said they were introducing a bill to create a $4,000 skills training tax credit for newly unemployed workers. Under the proposal (the text of which was not available), the credit could be used to cover a wide range of training to build skills that are expected to be in high demand by employers in coming months, according to a news release. Any worker who lost their job as a result of the pandemic in 2020 will be eligible, and the credit may be applied to cover training expenses incurred through the end of 2021.
“The tax credit is fully refundable — which means it will be available to all workers, including low-income workers with no federal income tax liability,” the release said. “The credit may be applied to offset the cost, on a dollar-by-dollar basis, of training programs located anywhere along the postsecondary pipeline — including apprenticeships, stackable credentials, certificate programs, and traditional two- and four-year programs. To maximize participation, distance learning programs will also be included.”
Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced the bill with Republican Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Tim Scott of South Carolina. A bipartisan companion bill is being introduced in the House, according to the release.
“The COVID-19 epidemic has significantly altered our economy, and we should take smart, impactful steps to ensure American workers have access to the tools and training they need to succeed as the recovery process begins,” Scott said in a statement. “We know the longer people are unemployed, the harder it is for them to rejoin the workforce. The SKILLS Renewal Act will provide workers with the resources they need to keep their skills sharp while they are out of work, either through distance learning or more traditional methods such as apprenticeships.”
— Paul Fain
Moody’s: Community Colleges Could Remain Stable
May 20, 3:30 p.m. The outlook for community colleges is stable despite the public health pandemic, according to a report from Moody’s Investors Service.
Community colleges tend to be more flexible than four-year institutions, which makes it easier for them to cut expenses, the report states. Support from the federal stimulus package the CARES Act and revenue that many community colleges receive from local property taxes should also help. Enrollment could increase as well, as the people lose jobs and seek training.
If the pandemic stretches on and creates further disruption, this outlook could change, the report states.
— Madeline St. Amour
May 20, 2:15 p.m. Summer enrollment at Arizona State University is at an all-time high, the university reported yesterday.
More than 56,000 students have signed up to take summer classes, a 16.5 percent increase from 2019. Of these, 1,300 are newly admitted fall 2020 students, a 74 percent increase from last summer.
ASU expanded its summer course offerings in anticipation of students wanting to study while confined to their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The institution is offering over 5,200 courses — a mixture of native online courses and courses that will be offered remotely using videoconferencing tools.
“Our faculty have shown remarkable adaptability and an unyielding commitment to student success by making classes available through remote options and offering multiple start dates this summer,” said Mark Searle, executive vice president and university provost, in a statement. “I am equally impressed by the students who have enrolled in summer classes — they are choosing to approach our present reality as an opportunity to make progress on their academic goals.”
— Lindsay McKenzie
May 20, 12:41 p.m. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance Tuesday for colleges on slowing the spread of coronavirus.
The guidance describes behaviors colleges can promote to reduce spread and outlines steps they should take to isolate and transport sick individuals. It also includes suggestions for maintaining healthier campus environments by promoting social distancing, ensuring proper operation of ventilation and water systems, increasing cleaning and disinfection practices, closing or staggering use of communal spaces, and changing food services protocols. It recommends encouraging telework “for as many faculty and staff as possible” and putting in place protections for staff, faculty and students at higher risk of severe illness due to age or underlying medical conditions.
The guidance notes that institutions of higher education “vary considerably in geographic location, size, and structure. As such, IHE officials can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials, whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the IHE and local community. Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community.”
— Elizabeth Redden
May 20, 10:18 a.m. Several leaders of colleges in New Jersey have asked the state for immunity from lawsuits as they consider reopening for in-person instruction in the fall, NJ.com reported. Those requests, made by higher education officials during a New Jersey Senate committee hearing yesterday on the impact of COVID-19 on colleges, echo requests made by some college and university leaders during a call last week with Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Presidents in the call with Pence said they needed assurances their institutions wouldn’t be sued if students or employees got sick on campus, which is likely.
“They were mostly in listening mode, wanting to hear what the federal government could do to be helpful,” said University of Texas at El Paso president Heather Wilson, who was on the call. One way the government can help, said Wilson, a former Republican congresswoman from New Mexico and secretary of the Air Force, “is to have some kind of liability protection.”
The New Jersey higher education officials made similar comments during the hearing yesterday. The threat of costly lawsuits is an impediment to colleges reopening, said Eugene Lepore, executive director of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities, according to NJ.com.
Gregory Dell’Omo, president of Rider University, made a similar point in a written comment to the lawmakers, according to the news outlet.
“We find ourselves seriously exposed by events that are out of our control,” Dell’Omo wrote. “The financial impact from these kinds of lawsuits will seriously jeopardize the financial solvency of many colleges and universities in New Jersey.”
— Paul Fain
May 20, 9:30 a.m. Bob Ferguson, attorney general for Washington State, has challenged an April 21 U.S. Department of Education decision to exclude undocumented and hundreds of thousands of other college students from $6 billion in emergency aid grants included in the federal CARES Act stimulus. The new lawsuit’s filing comes a week after the California community college system and its chancellor, Eloy Ortiz Oakley, filed a similar legal challenge to the emergency aid determination by the department and Betsy DeVos, the U.S. education secretary.
DeVos has faced criticism for her interpretation that the congressional emergency aid package was limited to students who currently qualify for federal student aid.
“The pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption for all of Washington’s students without regard for the arbitrary, harmful lines the Department of Education has drawn,” Jay Inslee, Washington’s Democratic governor, said in a statement. “Congress intended this aid to be distributed to all students struggling to cope with the COVID-19 emergency, not only those Betsy DeVos deems eligible for assistance. All higher education students in Washington state deserve to be part of our recovery.”
Ferguson’s lawsuit asserts that the department’s decision is unlawful and a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, as well as Article I of the U.S. Constitution, which grants “power of the purse” exclusively to Congress. The Washington AG also is filing for a preliminary injunction to ask a judge to block the department’s restriction on the grants.
— Paul Fain
May 19, 6:00 p.m. Another analysis documents productivity declines among women during COVID-19. This one, published in Nature Index, looks at submissions to 11 preprint repositories (indicative of overall research activity) and three platforms for registered reports (indicative of new projects). Over all, the authors found that women submitted fewer articles in March and April 2020 compared to the preceding two months and to March and April 2019. The researchers, like others in this area, attribute the sudden drop-offs to women’s disproportionate caring loads at home during social distancing.
The biggest drops were observed in EarthArXiv, medRxiv, SocArXiv and among working papers published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. In arXiv and bioRxiv, female authorship had been increasing in January and February 2020 but then dropped as COVID-19 spread to match rates in earlier years.
Women in first-author positions on papers appear to have experienced larger productivity declines than their last-author counterparts. This is particularly worrisome, the authors suggest, because the norm across these disciplines is to assign first authorship to a more junior scholar, meaning the COVID-19 pandemic “may disproportionately affect early career researchers, with negative consequences” for their career trajectories.
Female first-author submissions to medRxiv, a medical preprint site, dropped from 36 percent in December to 20 percent in April, for instance. This has implications for public health, the paper said, in that much of the current medical research is on COVID-19, and if “women and other minorities are absent,” it may “alter the emphasis on aspects of the virus that are particularly important for certain populations.”
— Colleen Flaherty
May 19, 5:30 p.m. Educause, a membership organization for higher ed IT professionals, has published a DIY survey kit to help institutions evaluate student and faculty experiences of remote learning in the spring term.
The kit includes sample surveys institutions may customize. Institutions are encouraged to share their results with Educause, but this is not a requirement.
“As the dust settles on a spring semester of rapid transition to remote modes of teaching and learning, institutions will need to take stock of their successes and challenges and begin preparing for improvements and adjustments to remote experiences in subsequent academic terms,” Educause’s Center for Analysis and Research said in a blog post.
“Short online surveys of students and faculty can serve as the beginning of a conversation with end users and provide indicators of where institutions should focus.”
— Lindsay McKenzie
May 19, 5:00 p.m. The University of Cambridge will not hold face-to-face courses throughout the 2020-21 academic year, BBC News reported. The selective British university will offer online courses and, possibly, smaller in-person “teaching groups” if they meet social distancing requirements.
The University of Manchester recently made a similar move, the BBC said, announcing that its lectures would be online-only for the next term.
Cambridge said it will review the decision if advice on social distancing changes.
“The university is constantly adapting to changing advice as it emerges during this pandemic,” Cambridge said in a statement, according to the BBC. “Given that it is likely that social distancing will continue to be required, the university has decided there will be no face-to-face lectures during the next academic year.”
— Paul Fain
May 19, 12:40 p.m. More than 40,000 National Guard members who are working on COVID-19 testing and contact tracing for states face a possible end to their deployments on June 24, which is one day before many would become eligible for the GI Bill and other federal benefits, Politico reported.
The news outlet obtained an audio version of a Trump administration call with various federal agencies in which an official acknowledged that the possible “hard stop” to the National Guard members’ deployment would fall one day short of a 90-day threshold for qualifying for early retirement and Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
“We’re not there yet on the determination,” a spokesman for the National Guard told Politico. “Nobody can say where we’ll need to be more than a month down the road.”
Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit advocacy group, yesterday released a report saying that college students who are veterans of the U.S. military could be disproportionately denied emergency aid grants from the CARES Act federal stimulus.
— Paul Fain
May 19, 10:55 a.m. Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana’s statewide two-year system, has announced its plans to resume in-person instruction for the fall semester, beginning on Aug. 24. But the system also will offer virtual and online course options to students.
Meanwhile, Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of California’s community college system, endorsed the move by many of the system’s 115 colleges to announce that they will be fully online in the fall, reported CalMatters, a nonprofit news site.
“As we transition to the fall, many of our colleges have already announced that they’re going fully online in the fall,” Oakley said during remarks to the Board of Governors for the system, which enrolls more than two million students. “I encourage them to continue to do so. I fully believe that that will be the most relevant way for us to continue to reach our students and to do it in a way that commits to maintaining equity for our students.”
The California State University system last week said it was planning to be mostly online-only in the fall.
The Indiana community college system said its summer semester will be virtual and online, like its spring term. Fall courses, however, will be offered in person or online, with hybrid options. The system said it has “built out a robust schedule of classes that will allow students maximum flexibility including both 8- and 16-week terms,” according to a statement.
“Ivy Tech is taking all of the necessary steps to ensure a deep cleaning of all buildings takes place prior to the start of classes and ongoing,” the statement said. “Preventive protocols to reduce risk of transmission will also be implemented across campuses. Further details will be shared with students, faculty and staff leading up to campuses reopening in August.”
— Paul Fain
May 19, 9:39 a.m. The architect and manager of Florida’s COVID-19 data dashboard was removed from her post last week, and researchers at several universities in the state told Florida Today that they are concerned about the state limiting access to data about the pandemic.
Rebekah Jones, a geographer who received her Ph.D. from Florida State University, is a geographic information system manager for the state Department of Health’s Division of Disease Control and Health Protection. The dashboard she helped create was widely praised for its publicly available data, including by Dr. Deborah Birx, a leader of the White House coronavirus task force. But Jones was removed from her role with the dashboard on Friday. The newspaper reported that she in an email expressed worries about data access going forward, including “what data they are now restricting.”
In recent weeks, the site had crashed and access to its data had become more difficult, according to the newspaper.
Jones’s concerns were shared by several university researchers contacted by Florida Today, including professors at the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida and Stetson University.
“We would not accept this lack of transparency for any other natural disaster, so why are we willing to accept it here?” Jennifer Larsen, a researcher at the University of Central Florida’s LabX, told the newspaper. “It’s all of us being denied access to what we need to know to be safe.”
— Paul Fain
May 18, 4:05 p.m. Michael Sorrell, who as president of Paul Quinn College has earned a reputation for speaking his mind, delivered a message Friday that many of his colleagues might not want to hear: colleges and universities “do not yet have the ability to bring students and staff back to campus while keeping them safe and healthy,” and planning to do so “constitutes an abdication of our moral responsibility as leaders.”
In an essay for The Atlantic, Sorrell, who over the last 13 years has helped rescue historically black Paul Quinn from the brink of closure, said he recognizes that many colleges and universities faced significant financial and enrollment pressures before COVID-19 hit and are in worse shape today.
That is a primary reason why campus leaders would “gamble with human life this way,” given powerful evidence that “our institutions are the perfect environment for the continued spread of COVID-19,” he writes.
“The fear of the fiscal damage associated with empty campuses in the fall is the primary reason that schools are exploring every option to avoid that possibility,” he continues. “However, if a school’s cost-benefit analysis leads to a conclusion that includes the term acceptable number of casualties, it is time for a new model.”
College and university leaders are also acquiescing to pressure from “the unrealistic expectations of many faculty and staff members, students, alumni, and other stakeholders,” Sorrell writes. “If you are a college president right now, not everyone is going to like what you do. But if you are fair, honest and transparent, you will be respected; and it is always better to be respected than liked.”
— Doug Lederman
May 18, 3:25 p.m. Growing percentages of parents, particularly black and Hispanic parents, of high school students report that their children’s plans after high school have changed, according to the results of a new survey.
Roughly 8,000 people responded to the nationally representative survey, which was conducted earlier in May by Civis Analytics, a data firm. The survey was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
It found that 43 percent of white parents said their children’s post-high school plans had changed, compared to 59 percent of black parents and 61 percent of Hispanic/Latinx parents. Over all, roughly half of parents who responded reported a change in those plans, down about 7 percent from a similar survey conducted on April 23.
The survey also found that 35 percent of employed Americans think it is likely they will lose their job in the next three months, but that concern is not shared equally among all Americans.
About a third (32 percent) of employed white Americans said it’s likely they will lose their job, the survey found, while 45 percent of employed black Americans and 40 percent of employed Hispanic/Latinx Americans said the same. That finding correspondents to the latest unemployment data, Civis said.
— Paul Fain
May 18, 1:15 p.m. The University of South Carolina is preparing to begin the semester on Aug. 20 with in-person classes and to end face-to-face instruction by Thanksgiving in anticipation of a potential increase in COVID-19 cases. “Our best current modeling predicts a spike in cases of COVID-19 at the beginning of December, which also will likely coincide with traditional flu season,” South Carolina’s president, Bob Caslen, said in a universitywide message.
Caslen also said South Carolina would cancel fall break, “as the public health risks associated with thousands of students and faculty returning to campus after fall break travels could be significant for the campus and Columbia communities and could jeopardize the continuation of the semester.”
— Elizabeth Redden
May 18, 11:55 a.m. Overall state support for higher education has fallen on a per-student basis since 2000 while federal funding has risen, said a new analysis from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew said the current recession likely will accelerate this major shift in government funding for public higher education.
“The pandemic has already created fierce economic headwinds that are driving down revenues as states face significant additional expenses in responding to the public health emergency and its economic ripple effects,” the report said, citing recent cuts to higher education by Nevada and Ohio.
However, Pew said uncertainty clouds the outlook for state funding in coming months, and decisions by state and federal policy makers could change the industry’s fortunes, particularly the amount and nature of federal aid. The higher education lobby has called for roughly $47 billion in emergency aid for institutions and students.
“The overall size and scope of any cuts will depend on the scale of state budget shortfalls and policy decisions at the state and federal levels,” Pew said. “Although the outlook for states appears ominous, policymakers don’t yet have the data they need to know the depth of the revenue holes they face. States also can mitigate the need for sudden spending reductions in a downturn through policy actions such as tapping rainy day funds.”
— Paul Fain
May 18, 11:20 a.m. College students who are veterans of the U.S. military could be disproportionately denied emergency aid grants under the CARES Act because of the way the Education Department is interpreting congressional intent in passing the coronavirus relief package, according to a report from Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit advocacy group.
At issue is a ruling by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that only students who are eligible for federal student aid can receive the grants aimed at helping students with the costs of having their lives disrupted by the closure of campuses by the coronavirus pandemic, like finding places to live if residence halls are shut down.
Campus financial aid administrators have complained that the only way to tell if someone not already receiving student aid would qualify for the grants is if they have filled out Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms. “If institutions interpret this to exclude students who have not filed a FAFSA, many student veterans will be left out,” the group said, noting that students who receive GI Bill benefits do not apply for regular student aid.
Citing Education Department survey data, the report said that in the 2015-16 academic year, 36 percent of undergraduate student veterans did not file a FAFSA, compared to 29 percent of nonveterans. “However, the generosity of the GI Bill does not mean that campus-based student veterans were not affected by the disruptions caused by coronavirus,” the report said.
The department has said it is only implementing the emergency grants based on the language of the CARES Act. But the California community college system is suing the department, saying Congress didn’t require the emergency grants to go to students who qualify for other aid, and that the interpretation excludes undocumented and other students.
— Kery Murakami
May 18, 10:00 a.m. Leaders at Providence College apologized to the public after students gathered near campus, apparently disregarding executive orders from Rhode Island’s governor.
Video appearing on social media showed students along a street near campus on Saturday in groups of more than five people, not wearing masks on their faces, WPRI reported. A spokesperson for Providence College said the gathering came after parents organized a parade to congratulate seniors who were living in the neighborhood.
“A parent called the college earlier this week to ask about organizing the parade and we told her that the college could not be involved in the parade nor could we sanction it,” the spokesperson told WPRI in an email. “We asked her to contact Providence Police if this was something parents wanted to do.”
The college’s commencement has been postponed to Oct. 31, but students were slated to receive their degrees Sunday.
— Rick Seltzer