Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 20, 2022

Six public colleges in Virginia have reversed course on COVID-19 vaccines, dropping immunization requirements for employees after Governor Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order Jan. 15 that rescinded the vaccine mandate for all workers employed by the commonwealth.

The College of William & Mary, James Madison University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia State University and Virginia Tech all announced they would no longer require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 following the executive order, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

The change comes as Virginia, like much of the nation, has experienced recent highs in COVID-19 cases as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus tears across the country.

The executive order was one of 11 signed by Youngkin on his first day in office. Several waded into culture war issues, including rescinding mask mandates in K-12 schools and banning any teaching of critical race theory in public education, a common cause for conservative politicians who believe the controversial graduate-level legal theory is being taught in K-12 schools.

January 20, 2022

More than a dozen organizations, from the NAACP to the National Black Justice Coalition, are rallying in front of the White House today to demand President Biden cancel all student debt.

Sponsored by the Hip Hop Caucus, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that connects the hip-hop community to the civic process, the Cut it: Cancel Student Debt Rally seeks debt relief for 46 million Americans and calls on Biden to extend the suspension of student loan payments until the end of the pandemic. At the very least, the Hip Hop Caucus statement said, the president should uphold a promise he made during his campaign to back Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan to immediately cancel a minimum of $10,000 of student debt per person.

“Nearly a year into his first [term] as president … President Biden has yet to make good on this campaign promise,” the Hip Hop Caucus website reads. “This particular promise has a deep impact on many in the BIPOC community, making the student debt crisis a civil rights and racial justice issue.”

The Biden administration has already canceled more than $1.5 billion in debt for students who were defrauded by their institutions. In December, the Department of Education announced a 90-day extension of the pause on student loan repayment, interest and collections until May 1, 2022. Biden also directed the Departments of Education and Justice last year to examine his legal authority to cancel up to $50,000 in debt by executive action, but the results of the memo haven’t yet been released publicly. Legal experts who have weighed in disagree on the limits of the president’s power to clear student debt.

January 20, 2022

A new report released by the nonprofit Southern Regional Education Board looks at dual-enrollment programs across 16 states, breaking down variances, shared elements and practices worth watching. It finds differences in how such programs are funded, student eligibility, workforce and educational goals, and more. The report, titled “Dual Enrollment: Common Issues Across SREB States,” notes that comparisons can be problematic given how much the structure of such programs can differ across state lines.

SREB also notes that the lack of cohesion in what dual enrollment means creates “the need to develop common definitions of dual enrollment that clearly mark out the terms and the territory.” Typically it refers to programs for which students earn both high school and college credit.

Existing research around dual-enrollment programs, the report finds, is often limited in scope, inconclusive about what factors lead to positive outcomes for students and commonly outdated.

As part of the report, SREB flags practices worth watching, including programs at West Virginia University Institute of Technology and Jefferson Community & Technical College.

SREB will further address dual-enrollment details in the report at a February conference.

January 20, 2022

Transfer enrollment stabilized in fall 2021 compared to its steep drop the year prior, according to a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The report, which analyzed over 12 million undergraduate students, including 1.3 million transfer students, found that transfer student enrollment dropped less than 1 percent—11,300 students—last fall, while nontransfer enrollment declined 4.1 percent. In fall 2020, transfer enrollment declined 9.2 percent, or 137,000 students, compared to 2.3 percent for nontransfer students. Among continuing students, transfers actually increased 2.3 percent in fall 2021 but declined 5.8 percent among students transferring from a stop-out.

The economic and health impacts of the pandemic made navigating the transfer process “very difficult as never before,” the report said. Additionally, while four-year institutions expressed the need for transfers to help them maintain enrollment and diversity in the pandemic, the research center said, “The scope and impact of the efforts have proved to be limited.”

The only age group to experience enrollment growth was transfer students between 18 and 20, which saw a 13.6 percent increase in enrollment compared to a decline of 8.7 percent in fall 2020, the report found. Private, nonprofit four-year institutions saw the highest increase in transfers at 7.7 percent, followed by public four-year institutions at 1.5 percent.

Upward transfer enrollment, meaning students going from two-year institutions to four-year institutions, increased at “very competitive colleges” in fall 2021, the report states, with a 4 percent increase, or more than 5,000 students. However, upward transfers at highly selective institutions grew more slowly than last year, at 2.7 percent compared to 9.5 percent in fall 2020. Four-year lateral transfers, meaning students transferring from one four-year institution to another four-year institution, saw between 5 and 6 percent growth at “very competitive” and “competitive” institutions, an increase of over 9,200 students in total. Reverse transfer student enrollment—those who start at a four-year institution and transfer to a two-year institution—stayed stable with a 0.9 percent decrease, compared to a decrease of 17.5 percent in fall 2020.

January 20, 2022

Today on the Academic Minute: Kenneth Luck, assistant professor of media arts at SUNY Sullivan, explores why conspiracy theories are no longer a fringe phenomenon. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 19, 2022

Six professors at the City University of New York have filed suit against the Professional Staff Congress, the union representing them, claiming the organization is anti-Semitic and anti-Israel and that a New York state law prevents them from ending their association with the PSC.

Plaintiffs claim that ongoing representation by the PSC is in violation of their First Amendment rights, and they are also asking the court to bar the union from continuing to collect dues from them.

The lawsuit, filed last week in the Southern District of New York, was brought forward by Avraham Goldstein, Michael Goldstein, Frimette Kass-Shraibman, Mitchell Langbert, Jeffrey Lax and Maria Pagano. Five of the six plaintiffs, the lawsuit notes, are Jewish. At the heart of the issue, court filings show, is a June 2021 PSC resolution supporting the people of Palestine and condemning lethal force and the destruction of property at the hands of Israeli soldiers.

Following this resolution, several plaintiffs immediately resigned their PSC membership. However, under a New York state law, they continue to be represented by the PSC.

The lawsuit references this resolution alongside other allegedly anti-Semitic actions and notes that despite resigning from the PSC, the plaintiffs continue to be represented by the union. “They have no faith and confidence in PSC’s ability to represent them as their exclusive, fiduciary representative, and they desire to end such forced representation,” part of the lawsuit reads.

CUNY is also named as a defendant, in addition to the PSC and several New York State officials.

The six CUNY professors suing PSC are receiving free legal assistance from two antiunion organizations, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Fairness Center.

A PSC spokesperson described the lawsuit as “meritless” and “just another attempt to erode the power of organized labor to fight for better pay and working conditions and a more just society.” The PSC statement described the Right to Work Foundation as “notoriously right wing” with an agenda “rooted in white supremacy” and noted that while anti-Semitism is on the rise, “the deeply held convictions and differences of opinion that some PSC members have about Israel and Palestine should not be distorted in service of an anti-union agenda.”

January 19, 2022

A group of 45 colleges and universities in California was selected to participate in a new statewide initiative to involve low-income students in finding solutions for pressing state problems such as inequities in education, climate change, pandemic recovery and food insecurity​, according to an announcement from the office of California governor Gavin Newsom.

The program, #CaliforniansForAll College Corps, will provide paid fellowships for up to 6,500 students at the participating colleges and universities and will begin this fall. Fellows who complete 450 hours of service over the course of a year will receive a $7,000 living allowance and a $3,000 education award. Undocumented students who qualify for in-state tuition at California campuses are eligible to apply.

The program allows students to “serve the social and civic health of our state while also earning funds to pay for college,” Joseph I. Castro, chancellor of the California State University system, said in a press conference. “This historic investment will help mitigate the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on both students and communities.”

The goal of the program is ultimately “forming stronger connections” among Californians, Newsom said. “And that takes place slowly, day in and day out.”

January 19, 2022

Today on the Academic Minute: Anna Amirkhanyan, professor of public administration and policy at American University, explores why trust in government is said to be at an all-time low. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 18, 2022

Federal prosecutors have recommended that the government drop charges against a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor accused of hiding ties to Chinese entities on a 2017 grant application to the U.S. Department of Energy, The Wall Street Journal reported. The recommendation to drop the charges against the MIT professor, Gang Chen, is based in part on new information from a Department of Energy official, who told prosecutors in recent weeks that the agency did not believe Chen had an obligation to disclose his China-related posts at the time and didn’t believe the department would have withheld grant funding had he disclosed them.

Chen is part of a group of academics who have been accused of hiding their Chinese affiliations on grant applications and charged under the auspices of the Department of Justice’s controversial China Initiative, which was established by the Trump administration with the ostensible aim of combating economic espionage. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in October the new assistant attorney general for the department’s National Security Division would “review all the activities in the department,” which encompasses the China Initiative.

January 18, 2022

A Republican state legislator in Virginia is among the many who are proposing bills that would limit the teaching of critical race theory in schools or colleges. Delegate Wren Williams would bar school boards from supporting the teaching of critical race theory, or to “teach or incorporate into any course or class any divisive concept.” But as The New York Times noted, the proposed learning standards include “the founding documents of the United States, including the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers, including Essays 10 and 51, excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, and the writings of the Founding Fathers of the United States.”

Abraham Lincoln did not debate Frederick Douglass (the noted American abolitionist). He debated Stephen Douglas, a Democratic senator from Illinois.

“The gross mistake in this bill is indicative of the need to have scholars and teachers, not legislators/politicians, shaping what students at every level learn in the classroom,” said Caroline Janney, a professor of Civil War history at the University of Virginia.

Williams blamed the state’s Division of Legislative Services, which said it made the error.

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