Live Updates: Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education

Updates on the coronavirus pandemic published throughout the day.

May 28, 2020

Governors Association Recommends Steps for States to Help Reopen Campuses

May 28, 11:20 a.m. The nation’s governors should create a public health framework for colleges and universities to follow in order to reopen campuses, their national association said.

In a memo on Wednesday, the National Governors Association recommended a number of steps including following the lead of Connecticut Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s reopening advisory group, which laid out a framework recommending steps for colleges to take, including doing testing and contact tracing.

“Reopening higher education institutions will be a critically important and high-profile step for governors who are working to get their state economies back on track. This process will involve complex legal questions for which governors should provide clear guidance,” the association’s memo said.

-- Kery Murakami​​

Colleges Ask Congress for Protection from Lawsuits

May 28, 11 a.m. Nearly 80 education groups, including associations representing colleges and universities, wrote Congress asking for “temporary” protections from COVID-19 related lawsuits should they reopen campuses.

As first reported by Inside Higher Ed, colleges pushed for protection from pandemic-related lawsuits in a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and before the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago. The effort is part of a broader push by groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and supported by Republican congressional leaders, to block lawsuits should students, customers or workers contract the coronavirus.

In the letter to Congressional leaders, the president of the American Council on Education, Ted Mitchell, wrote that “as colleges and universities assess how quickly and completely campuses can resume full operations, they are facing enormous uncertainty about COVID-19-related standards of care and corresponding fears of huge transactional costs associated with defending against COVID-19 spread lawsuits, even when they have done everything within their power to keep students, employees, and visitors safe.”

A shield is needed, Mitchell wrote, “to blunt the chilling effect this will have on otherwise reasonable decision-making leading to our nation’s campuses resuming operations in a safe and sensible manner.”

He wrote the protections should be given for colleges “following applicable public health standards, and they should preserve recourse for those harmed by truly bad actors who engage in egregious misconduct.”

Republican leaders in the Senate, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Majority Whip, John Cornyn, are working on a proposal to provide the protection for a range of entities. McConnell has said liability protection has to be part of any future coronavirus relief package. It’s unclear when Senate Republicans might release their liability protection proposal, but McConnell said Tuesday he expects Congress to take up another coronavirus package in about a month.

-- Kery Murakami

Mitch Daniels Among Presidents to Testify Before Senate on Reopening

May 27, 6:02 p.m. The presidents of Purdue and Brown Universities and Lane College will testify before the U.S. Senate's health and education committee next Thursday on “how students can safely go to their college or university this fall,” the committee announced.

In addition to Purdue’s Mitch Daniels, Brown’s Christina Paxson and Lane’s Logan Hampton, Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, will testify. All three of the presidents have advocated physically reopening their campuses this fall; the agenda at this point includes no college leaders who have said their institutions to continue to operate mostly virtually this fall.

Senator Lamar Alexander, the committee’s Republican chairman and former president of the University of Tennessee, expressed confidence to reporters last week that colleges and universities around the country will have sufficient testing capacity and are taking the needed steps to be able to safely reopen their physical campuses this fall.

-- Kery Murakami

Bipartisan Group of Senators Urge DeVos to Help Students Left Jobless

May 27, 5:10 p.m. A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators is urging the Education Department to change the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form so students can have reductions in their income considered when they seek aid.

“We are concerned that the current financial situation of students who recently filed, or are in the process of filing, their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) may not be accurately reflected,” the senators wrote in a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. “Students and families who have recently become unemployed or suffered a significant drop in income may fail to qualify for the support they need to afford college.”

The letters were signed by two Democrats, Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, and two Republicans, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia.

The senators asked DeVos to issue a guidance document stressing that college financial aid administrators are able to exercise their professional judgment and to adjust the income of recently unemployed students to zero. The senators also suggested a number of other steps, including adding a question on the FAFSA form where students can note that their income had been reduced because of the pandemic.

Angela Morabito, an Education Department spokeswoman, said the department is reviewing the letter. "Secretary DeVos continues to use every available avenue to help keep students learning during this national emergency," she said.

-- Kery Murakami

Colleges Applaud Proposal to Expand National Science Foundation

May 27, 2:50 p.m. The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities praised the introduction of a bipartisan bill in the U.S. Congress that would dramatically expand the National Science Foundation and pump $100 billion into the agency over five years to increase research in areas like artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and advanced manufacturing.

Under the Endless Frontiers Act, the NSF would be renamed the National Science and Technology Foundation. The new agency would have two deputy directors -- one to oversee the NSF’s current operations and another to lead a new technology directorate to advance technology in 10 areas as the U.S. faces greater competition from China and other countries.

“America cannot afford to continue our decades-long underinvestment and expect to lead the world in advanced scientific and technological research,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York. “To ensure our advantage, our bill treats scientific research as a national security priority and provides substantial new investments into funding critical research and development to build the industries of the future in regions across the country.”

The bill and an accompanying version in the House were co-sponsored by Representative Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, and Republicans Senator Todd Young, from Indiana, and Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin.

Peter McPherson, APLU's president, said in a statement, “Federal investment in R&D has languished in recent decades. As a share of the economy, it’s a third of what it was at its peak. China and other countries, meanwhile, have vastly expanded their investments in research and development. The current pandemic has underscored the critical need to redouble public investment in research and development. We must ensure more of these innovations and advancements take place in the U.S. rather than elsewhere around the globe.”

-- Kery Murakami

Purdue Board Approves Fall Reopening Plans

May 26, 5:46 p.m. Purdue University’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved the adoption of a fall academic calendar featuring in-person instruction from Aug. 24 to Nov. 24, without customary university holidays or fall breaks and with the remainder of the semester to be completed remotely. At the same time, the board approved plans for offering remote coursework options to students who cannot or will not come to the Indiana campus this fall.

Purdue’s president, Mitch Daniels, has been especially visible in articulating a case for universities to reopen, despite concerns voiced by some Purdue faculty members about the safety of in-person teaching.

Purdue’s board on Tuesday approved a plans “to de-densify learning spaces on campuses,” by reducing classroom occupancy by approximately 50 percent and limiting occupancy for large classrooms to no more than 150 students. “The space between instructor and student will be a minimum of 10 feet, and mobile plexiglass barriers will be available for additional protection,” the university said in a news release.

Purdue's board similarly approved plans to “de-densify” on-campus living spaces, “ensuring that each residential space meets the following requirements: square footage per person will meet or exceed 113 square feet, allowing for a radius of six feet per person, or while sleeping, a separation of at least 10 feet head-to-head.”

Other plans approved by the board include plans to implement “more frequent and intensive practices for disinfecting campus facilities” and “adopt a definitional framework for identifying those most vulnerable in the campus community and, thus, at greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19, and to implement a process for making individual accommodations for those for whom it is medically appropriate.”

Finally, the board approved a new university regulation requiring the wearing of face masks while indoors and in any close-quarters setting. It also ratified the Protect Purdue Pledge -- a series of individual commitments for monitoring for COVID-19 and maintaining social distancing -- and directed enforcement of the pledge as a university regulation.

-- Elizabeth Redden

Appalachian State to Cut Three Athletics Teams

May 26, 3:50 p.m. Appalachian State University will eliminate its men's soccer, tennis and indoor track and field programs, the Winston-Salem Journal reported. The move will leave Appalachian State with 17 intercollegiate athletics teams, one more than the minimum required to participate in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Another public university located in North Carolina, East Carolina University, last week announced it was cutting athletics teams amid the pandemic and financial crises. ECU eliminated men's swimming and diving, women's swimming and diving, men's tennis, and women's tennis.

-- Paul Fain

FAFSA Renewals Down, Especially for Lower-Income Students

May 26, 3 p.m. The number of students filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid is still down from this time last year.

Completions of the application started to decline in mid-March, when parts of the country began to shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the National College Attainment Network, which is tracking FAFSA applications.

Application renewals have improved since April but are still lagging behind counts from last year. Through May 15, there have been nearly 4 percent fewer FAFSA renewals than through the same time last year.

Students from low-income backgrounds are not filing or renewing in disproportionate amounts compared to higher-income students.

Applications from students who are eligible for federal Pell Grants whose families have incomes of $25,000 or less are also down by more than 7 percent compared to last year. While renewals increased for students from households making more than $25,000, applications from those making less were still down.

Over all, there were nearly 6 percent fewer renewals from all Pell-eligible students from March 15 to May 15 this year compared to last.

Renewals from students whose households earn $50,000 or more are up slightly -- by about 4,100 renewals -- compared to last year.

-- Madeline St. Amour

University of Michigan's President on Reopening, Football

May 26, 9:07 a.m. In an interview The Wall Street Journal published over the weekend, University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel said whatever decision the university makes about in-person instruction in the fall will apply through the rest of the academic year.

“What’s going to be different in January?” Schlissel told the newspaper.

The winter semester coincides with the flu season, said Schlissel. And because about half of Michigan's students are from out of state, both semesters likely will feature an influx of students traveling from COVID-19 hot spots.

Schlissel also told the Journal that the university won't have a football season this fall unless all students are able to be back on campus for classes.

“If there is no on-campus instruction then there won’t be intercollegiate athletics, at least for Michigan,” Schlissel said. “[I have] some degree of doubt as to whether there will be college athletics [anywhere], at least in the fall.”

An immunologist by training, Schlissel told Inside Higher Ed back in early March that the university was updating its strategy on the COVID-19 pandemic on a daily basis.

“There’s a huge amount of uncertainty and a lot of concern,” he said. “We’re looking at it every single day and asking ourselves, ‘What is the right thing to do?’”

-- Paul Fain

College Presidents Say Fall Opening Likely

May 25, 2020, 1:26 p.m. More than half of college presidents (53 percent) said it was “very likely” their institutions would resume in-person courses this fall, and another 31 percent said it was “somewhat likely,” according to a survey of 310 presidents conducted by the American Council on Education. Presidents at public two-year colleges were less likely (38 percent) than presidents of four-year public (53 percent) and four-year private (58 percent) colleges to say it was “very likely” their colleges would resume in-person courses this fall.

Of the 230 presidents in the survey whose institutions offer on-campus housing, 51 percent said it was “very likely” their campuses would resume in-person housing operations at some point in the fall semester, and 40 percent said it was “somewhat likely.”

The survey asked presidents about whether they plan to take certain specific actions in resuming in-person operations. Their answers can be seen in the two charts below.







College presidents also are broadly forecasting revenue and enrollment declines. Among college presidents projecting enrollment declines for this fall, 45 percent expect a decline of 10 percent or less compared to fall 2019, 50 percent expect an 11 to 20 percent decline and 6 percent expect a 21 to 30 percent decline.

-- Elizabeth Redden

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