Live Updates: Latest News on COVID-19 and Higher Education



Live Updates: Latest News on COVID-19 and Higher Education

The Florida state Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it would hear a lawsuit against the University of South Florida over campus shutdowns and remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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As the effects of the pandemic wane, higher education leaders and researchers have been anxiously awaiting this fall’s enrollment numbers to reveal a clearer picture of the new landscape. While early signs led many to predict a slight rebound from the steep two-year drop-off during the pandemic, a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that enrollment fell for the fifth semester in a row, dampening those hopes.

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Fordham University in New York is requiring that students receive the new bivalent COVID-19 booster shot—or a valid exemption—by Nov. 1 or risk being locked out of campus. The decision, announced in a Sept. 26 email, has sparked outrage among parents and students who oppose vaccine mandates or who simply don’t want to get the newest shot.

The backlash has been broader and louder than with any of the Jesuit university’s previous vaccine or booster requirements, which it has had in place throughout the pandemic.

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The start of the fall semester has brought more than students back to college campuses. As dorms and lecture halls fill up again, COVID-19 cases are spiking at some institutions.

Ever since the pandemic started in March of 2020, campus COVID cases have surged with the return of students at the beginning of each new semester, only to level off a few weeks later. Still, some of this fall’s numbers have been alarmingly high, raising concerns that safety protocols and guidelines were relaxed too early.

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Study: College Reopenings Increased Community COVID-19 Cases

A new peer-reviewed study published Monday found that when colleges that went online during the coronavirus pandemic reopened in the fall of 2020, COVID-19 case counts increased in the surrounding community as students returned to campus.

The paper, titled “College openings in the United States increase mobility and COVID-19 incidence,” analyzed data from a college reopenings database from the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College, coronavirus case count data from the CDC and USA Facts, and cellular GPS data from SafeGraph to gauge the number of people on campus.

Looking at community-level effects, the paper found that cases rose when students returned. According to the paper, “reopening a college was associated with a statistically significant increase of 4.9 cases per 100,000.” The analysis, which looked at 786 counties across the U.S., indicates that reopening college campuses led to an additional 11,500 COVID-19 cases nationwide per day.

Martin Anderson, a health economist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and one of five authors of the paper, explained in a Twitter thread that while cases increased with reopening, “hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths did not increase, on average.”

So, what does that mean for this fall with students set to return to colleges en masse?

“Now, unlike Fall of 2020, there are highly effective vaccines and vaccine mandates are effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Anderson tweeted Monday, adding a caveat about the unvaccinated. “However, with only [two-thirds] of 18-24 year olds vaccinated and variants that are increasingly adept at evading immunity, our results indicate that we should expect increased incidence in ‘college counties’ over the next several weeks as students return to campus.”

With colleges and universities now starting their third pandemic-era fall term, COVID-19 safety precautions—and faculty members’ thoughts on them—are very much a mixed bag.

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Vaccine Mandate Moves Simon Fraser Football Games to U.S.

Two-plus years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the coronavirus continues to drive changes across the college sports world. Simon Fraser University, the NCAA’s only Canadian program, announced that it is moving four home football games to Washington State, citing vaccine requirements for crossing the border into Canada.

Simon Fraser, which plays at the Division II level, will play four home games in Blaine, Wash., roughly 28 miles away from its Burnaby, British Columbia, campus. Simon Fraser will keep two home games on campus, playing Central Washington University and the University of British Columbia. Opponents for the relocated games are Texas A&M University–Kingsville, Western New Mexico University, Angelo State University and West Texas A&M University.

Canada has had a vaccine requirement for foreign visitors since the fall of 2021.

New Jersey City University is facing scrutiny from the state government following a financial collapse that saw a dramatic reversal of fortune with the institution reportedly going from a surplus of $108 million in 2013 to a deficit of $67 million amid plans to expand NJCU's campus.

Last week Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, called for an investigation into the university's finances.

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Coach Fired for Vaccine Refusal Seeks $25 Million Payout

Fired for refusing to get a coronavirus vaccine, former Washington State University football coach Nick Rolovich is seeking $25 million for wrongful termination.

Rolovich was fired last year for defying Washington's vaccine mandate for state employees. Rolovich, who is Catholic, had asked for a religious exemption for vaccination but was denied leading to his termination and current legal action.

Since then a tort claim for $25 million was filed in late April on behalf of Rolovich with Washington's Office of Risk Management, which is a prerequisite to suing a state agency, the Seattle Times reported on Tuesday, noting that a 60-day waiting period is required before a lawsuit can be filed. The newspaper reported that a formal lawsuit, following the tort claim, has yet to be filed.

Other unvaccinated assistant coaches were also fired alongside Rolovich in October. Rolovich coached 11 games in two seasons shaped by the pandemic.

Most people agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the trajectory of online learning. But by how much and in what ways are matters of debate.

Chief online officers (COOs) anticipate that most undergraduate and graduate students' academic trajectories will feature prominent online components by 2025, according to the "Changing Landscape of Online Education 2022"(CHLOE, for short) survey released today. The survey, conducted by Quality Matters, a nonprofit group focused on ensuring quality online education, and Eduventures, a research and advisory group, defined chief online officers as the primary officials responsible for coordinating online learning at the college or university.

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Students are scrambling to find housing as the fall semester rapidly approaches, with many colleges managing lengthy waitlists and frustrations from would-be residents desperate for a bed on campus. At some institutions, housing waitlists are a positive sign for both booming enrollment and student preferences.

But even as they deal with such welcome developments, institutions still have to figure out where to place students for the coming academic year. While some universities are turning to familiar strategies–such as placing students in nearby hotels–others are deploying new tools to incentivize students, and even alumni, to help ease high housing demands.

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Eckerd College President Resigns, Citing Exhaustion

After two years as president of Eckerd College, Damien Fernandez announced Monday that he is stepping down, citing exhaustion as the reason he is leaving the small Florida liberal arts college early.

“I accomplished the work with a tremendous team and a lot of energy, but also exhaustion,” Fernandez told The Tampa Bay Times. “I called these last few years dog years.”

Monday was Fernandez’s last day as president.

Fernandez, who previously served as a chancellor in the Pennsylvania State University system, formally announced his plans to step down in June. Fernandez will be succeeded in an interim capacity by James Annarelli, the longtime vice president for student life and dean of students. Eckerd’s Board of Trustees will conduct a national search to find Fernandez’s replacement.

New Paper Finds College Vaccine Mandates Saved Lives

A new working paper that aims to calculate the effects of COVID-19 vaccine mandates at colleges estimates that they reduced death rates in fall 2021, saving 7,319 lives.

The working paper, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that vaccine mandates at colleges reduced deaths from coronavirus by an estimated 5 percent. Researchers from Miami University in Ohio, Michigan State University, Tulane University and Cornell University co-authored the paper that looked at how vaccine mandates mitigated death rates.

The authors used data on vaccine mandates compiled by the College Crisis Initiative to identify universities with such requirements and “how they affected community-level transmission, hospitalizations, and deaths,” co-author Riley Acton of Miami University explained on Twitter.

Researchers examined coronavirus vaccine mandates at nearly 700 colleges in the U.S.

“The results? Per 100,000 residents, counties with mandates experienced 339 fewer cases & 5.4 fewer deaths over the first 13 weeks of the fall 2021 semester. Combined, this reduction [in] death is equal to about 5% of U.S. deaths nationally in fall 2021,” Acton tweeted Monday.

The benefits extended beyond campus and into the community. Since healthy college students were at low risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19, “the reduction in deaths almost all come from the surrounding community,” paper co-author Scott Imberman of Michigan State explained in a video.

The ubiquity of remote work is one of the many ways the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped the world since March 2020. And while mask and vaccine mandates may be easing, remote work is here to stay. Employees in many fields now expect a certain degree of flexibility to allow them to take more control of their schedules, cut back on commute times and costs, and enjoy the freedom to live where they want.

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