Coronavirus News Roundup for May 4

Everything you need to know for Monday and the week ahead about higher ed and the coronavirus in one easy-to-read package (with some distractions to help your sanity). Plus, a special Q&A with a student about what life is like in the COVID-19 pandemic.

May 4, 2020
 
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Some researchers are saying the COVID-19 pandemic could go on for two years.

So don't dwell on the bad news now. You'll have plenty of time to take that all in. Here are some palate cleansers to start your week off instead.

I discovered a blessed Twitter account about booping snoots.

A bunch of flamingos are partying in Mumbai as people stay inside.

And, while most in-person graduations are canceled, colleges are still finding ways to celebrate their students (safely).

It's Monday, which means you'll find a Q&A feature below the roundup. This week I talked with Mylesha McCardell, a college freshman at Johnson & Wales University's Florida campus, a private nonprofit institution that focuses on career-oriented education. Our conversation provides some insight into what students went through as institutions closed campuses, and what their ongoing struggles are in the pandemic.

Let's get to the news.

Senate Republicans are proposing a bill that would prohibit universities with large endowments from receiving relief funds from the CARES Act.

Meanwhile, small institutions, many with religious affiliations, have won the so-called CARES Act lottery after Congress asked that they receive at least $500,000.

The Education Department is certainly keeping busy. It's now asking the University of Texas system to share documents explaining its relationship with the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, which U.S. officials are investigating as a possible source of the COVID-19 outbreak -- even though there's no publicly available evidence that an accident in the lab caused this pandemic.

The Student Defense and the National Consumer Law Center are suing the Education Department for not doing enough to stop wage garnishments on student loan borrowers during this time.

Here’s a quick roundup of our latest stories, in case you’ve fallen a bit behind (we don’t blame you):

Normally May 1 holds a special meaning in higher ed. Not so much this year, Elizabeth Redden reports.

Not all students will get easy refunds for room and board costs. Greta Anderson has the story on what students who live in private, off-campus housing are doing about their rents.

I wrote about the discounts and deals community colleges are offering this summer as ways to both help students stay on track and boost enrollment.

News From Elsewhere

The latest dispatch from Open Campus examines making decisions outside the higher ed bubble, colleges picking up the phone and some dismal state budget news.

China is warning Australia that its students may boycott attending universities Down Under as the country calls for investigations in the origins of COVID-19, Times Higher Education reports.

Bloomberg looks more closely at the lawsuits colleges are facing -- which could collectively cost them billions -- for switching to remote learning.

Percolating Thoughts

This is a time when everyone has an opinion. As journalists, we try not to have opinions, but we've gathered some interesting ones from others.

Ben Miller of the Center for American Progress has a thread on the Education Department's decision to give aid to smaller colleges.

A writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education considers whether the pandemic will launch the golden age of audio for higher ed.

A professor argues against using the pandemic as a way to eliminate the SAT and ACT tests in The New York Times.


Thanks for sticking around. Here's my Q&A with McCardell, a 19-year-old freshman at Johnson & Wales University. She attends the Miami campus and studies culinary arts. The university's main campus is in Providence, R.I. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What are your plans for your degree?

A: Well, I wanted to get a culinary degree and go back to school for social work or psychology. I had this big idea of food therapy, where I teach young minds that you can cope with emotions with cooking and healthy eating habits, because that’s what I did. And if that didn’t work out, executive chef.

Q: When did your campus close?

A: It was a week and a half after our spring break. Our spring break was March 1, so around March 12.

Q: What happened when your campus closed?

A: They gave us about three days to get off of campus. At first, they were telling us that we could stay, it’s safe, we just can’t go to class, we’ll have to take online classes. But in the middle of the week, they said, "Yeah, all of you guys have got to go."

A lot of us at the school are international and out-of-state students [McCardell is from the Houston area]. It created the problem of how, are we getting home?

Keep in mind, this is right after spring break, so everybody just got done paying all of this money for traveling to and from campus. And this is a new term, so a lot of people had just got done paying off their tuition. I had just paid half of mine. And we had to find a way home.

So, the university gave me a $50 Shell gift card to get to Texas, basically. It kind of just blew me for the wind because I’m like, what am I supposed to do with this?

My friend had a pickup truck, and we went to her house in Tampa and I stayed there for three weeks because I had no way of getting home. After the three weeks, my grandma finally got some money and she was able to buy me a ticket. That was hard, too, because Houston was being quarantined, Florida was going backwards, so I didn’t want to travel and end up getting stuck and quarantined. So I had to wait for a good time to leave.

Q: How did you feel when it happened?

A: A lot of stress, a lot of stress. I was worried about myself, like how is everything going to work out? How am I going to get my stuff in storage if I don’t have any money? My stuff is still at school, and I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to get back there to put my stuff in storage.

Also, when am I going to start my classes again? Because I’m a culinary student and we take labs. Considering I can’t take labs right now, it just pushes me further back. We were in the middle of a lab when they told us to leave. It’s even more frustrating because the school had to switch me from a full-time to a part-time student, and that made my financial aid change. I went from having $180 left to pay for the spring term to close to $2,000.

They’re basically forcing us to come back this summer because they said they won’t offer us the labs that we missed in the spring in the fall term. For the summer they want us to pay over $13,000 for that term, and they’re not even providing meal plans.

Q: So they’re making you come back in the summer?

A: Yes, but I can’t, because I don’t have that money.

Q: Are you concerned about whether that’s safe?

A: I don’t think it’s safe at all because places are just opening up. Even though we are opening up, it’s still not the brightest idea to go around traveling because every state is still trying to get things under control and trying to get everybody tested. All of this traveling isn’t going to help anyone.

At this point, I’m honestly scared to check my email, because every time I check my email, they send us something like, "We hope you guys are doing well during this stressful time," and then add something else to stress over. It’s just frustrating.

Q: So they’re not planning how to move labs to an online format? They’re just making you continue face-to-face?

A: It kind of has to be face-to-face because they have to taste our food and our technique and everything. It makes sense, but I think rather than just forcing us to come during the summer when all of this stuff is still figuring itself out, they should push it back to the fall term. It’s frustrating, it’s all frustrating.

Our campus is also not the main campus, so they honestly don’t know what’s going to happen until it happens. When we had to move out, we kept asking them questions, and they literally told us, "We don’t know because Providence hasn’t gotten back to us yet."

Q: So what are you planning to do?

A: For sure, I can’t go back this summer. Even if I had the money, I wouldn’t want to go back, because I wouldn’t want to travel during this time.

Since I can’t go back this summer because of the price, they said they’re going to push my tuition that I had left to pay for the spring term to the fall and they’re going to substitute courses that I wasn’t able to take for the fall term. That’s all they told me. I don’t know if that means I’m going to be further behind. Either way it goes, I’m upset that there are labs that I won’t be able to take that I wanted to take.

Q: Have you been continuing classes online?

A: The only class that I have right now that’s online is communications. They’re pretty strict with the work. Like, you have to have it done this time. We don’t care what your situation is, your work has to be done.

Q: So you haven’t been given a lot of flexibility?

A: Not really, no. When we were leaving campus, we still had online work, and a lot of our grades dropped because weren’t able to do it because we were trying to figure out how to get home.

Q: Have you liked learning online?

A: I honestly feel like I’m not learning at all. It feels like I’m paying to teach myself.

As soon as we figure out some information, I feel like it goes out the window, because right after that it’s another topic that we have to teach ourselves. We gather all this information in a short amount of time to get one assignment done. There's no time to really process what you’re gathering. It’s just get this done, move on. So I don’t feel like I’m learning.

Q: Are you stressed about your grandparents during this time as well?

A: I’m definitely concerned for their health, because they’re older. Any time they catch a cold or anything, I get really nervous. They’re very worried about the whole situation, which is understandable. It worries me, too, because it’s very serious for them.

And a lot of people don’t take it seriously. When we go to the store and we see everybody without their masks on, it’s like, "C’mon man, you had one job. Do it, please."

Q: Are you worried about the future?

A: If this continues, I’m going to have to withdraw. I can deal with the hybrid classes because there’s still time in a class where you get to be one on one with the teacher. But if not, I’m going to withdraw, because it’s like, what am I paying for?

If I can teach myself now, I can teach myself for free. It doesn’t make sense to me. I’ll just wait until school reopens. I know that pushes me behind, but at least I’ll be learning something.

Q: If you decide to withdraw, do you have any plans for what you’d do in the interim?

A: I would definitely get a job. I’ve been applying to jobs like crazy since I’ve been back because I don’t like just sitting around at home. If I do get a job and there is a school that is going to be open, I think I would consider switching my major to go back to school. I would just transfer to a school that’s closer if they’re open.

If I do stay in-state, the school I would choose would most likely be cheaper and offer a better financial aid package. So that’s one less worry on my list.

Q: Is there anything else you'd like people to understand about what it's like for college students right now?

A: I feel like, for college students, we’re one of the groups that have it the worst. A lot of things are changing for us, and we don’t get a refund, we don’t get anything. It’s just stress on stress on stress.

Every time we check our emails, there’s something more to worry about. Colleges need to be more lenient with us and see that we are struggling, because right now I don’t think they see that. ​


Have any percolating thoughts or notice any from others? Feel free to send them our way or comment below.

We’ll continue bringing you the news you need in this crazy time. Keep sending us your questions and story ideas. We’ll get through this together.

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