Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 20, 2023

Yale University has made major changes to its medical leave policy that will allow students struggling with mental health problems to take time off—rather than withdraw—and to return to campus when they’re ready, without reapplying, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Yale has come under fire in recent months for what students suffering from psychological distress have described as callous treatment. Students and alumni sued the university last fall, alleging that Yale officials pressured students experiencing suicidal ideation to withdraw or risk being kicked out. They also had to reapply to be allowed to resume their studies.

By allowing Yale students to take a leave of absence for a mental health crisis instead of forcing them to withdraw, the new policy ensures that they have continued access to health insurance through the university, the Post reported. Students are also allowed to be on campus—which they were not under the old policy—meaning they can hold campus jobs, meet with career advisers and use the library, among other things.

With rates of anxiety and depression continuing to increase among college students, the change reflects a shift in campus thinking about mental illness not as a security threat to be eliminated but as a disability that requires accommodation.

Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis told the Post that Yale wants “to make clear to students their first priority in dealing with mental health problems should be mental health. And obviously we want people to be able to continue their education.”

He added that the goal of the policy change was to “make it seamless for people to be able to return” and to avoid treating students taking a mental health leave the same way as those on leave for disciplinary violations.

January 20, 2023

The Florida Department of Education has said that public schools in the state cannot offer the new Advanced Placement course in African American studies, The Miami Herald reported.

The department, which is part of the administration of Republican governor Ron DeSantis, said that the course “lacks educational value.”

“In the future, should College Board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, [the Florida Department of Education] will always be willing to reopen the discussion,” the state wrote in a letter to the College Board, which administers the AP program.

The College Board released this statement to Inside Higher Ed: “Like all new AP courses, AP African American Studies is undergoing a rigorous, multi-year pilot phase, collecting feedback from teachers, students, scholars and policymakers. The process of piloting and revising course frameworks is a standard part of any new AP course, and frameworks often change significantly as a result. We will publicly release the updated course framework when it is completed and well before this class is widely available in American high schools. We look forward to bringing this rich and inspiring exploration of African-American history and culture to students across the country.”

January 20, 2023

Nelnet, a federal student loan servicer, is cutting staff because of delays in the Biden administration’s debt-relief plan and the continued pause on loan payments, the company announced Wednesday.

About 350 employees hired in the last six months will be laid off and about 210 employees will be let go because of “performance reasons,” according to the announcement. Employees were given 60 days’ notice if their performance wasn’t a factor.

Nelnet started growing its staff last year to prepare for the one-time student loan forgiveness program and the restart of payments after the pause was scheduled to end Dec. 31. Federal courts ended up blocking loan forgiveness, which further delayed the resumption of payments. The administration is planning to restart payments 60 days after June 30 or after the lawsuits challenging the debt relief plan are resolved, whichever comes first. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the plan next month.

“These decisions are never easy,” Nelnet spokesman Ben Kiser said in a statement. “With the delay of federal student loan repayment through much of 2023, regrettably, it isn’t feasible to maintain increased staffing levels for work that will remain on hold for a significant amount of time.”

Kiser added that Nelnet hopes many employees will consider reapplying when payments resume.

January 20, 2023

Central State University in Ohio has stopped enrolling new students in Career Plus, a controversial free online college program for union members, The Dayton Daily News reported. The public university will also discontinue offerings for current students after the spring 2023 semester. The program accounted for 3,589 of the university’s 3,633 online students last fall, which was nearly double the institution’s in-person enrollment of 1,801 students, according to the newspaper’s investigation.

Career Plus works together with unions, including the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, to offer a free college benefit to union employees and children of union employees. Students in the program could earn an online associate degree at Eastern Gateway Community College and complete a bachelor’s degree at Central State.

Last July, the U.S. Education Department said that Eastern Gateway’s online program violated federal financial aid rules and that the institution was no longer permitted to disburse Pell Grants to new students. At the time, the Education Department accused Eastern Gateway of charging students it determined to have less financial need less than their Pell-eligible peers. Eastern Gateway is “currently working with the Department of Education to determine if there is a viable way to restructure the program and meet federal financial compliance,” according to the Eastern Gateway website.

January 20, 2023

Delaware State University students on Wednesday held a protest of the university’s police forces, The Delaware News Journal reported.

Students at the historically Black college protested both what they said was excessive force by police officers and a lack of response to serious crimes.

From August 2022 to the day before this protest, the university’s public crime log shows seven reports of rape on campus. Each case is marked as pending.

“We’re just trying to bring awareness to student rights,” said one freshman in attendance, Micaih Lloyd. “Not all students feel safe on campus. We’re supposed to be at a place where we feel loved, where we feel at home. Administration needs to make a change.”

Carlos Holmes, a spokesman for the university, stressed that all students have a right to free speech. “Bottom line is, students have expressed serious concerns about this,” Holmes said. “And the university is listening.”

January 20, 2023

Black students who attended colleges that serve greater shares of students of color nearly doubled their family income a decade after starting college, but they earn $8,000 less in income compared to peers at institutions with the smallest share of Black students and owe more in student loans than initially borrowed. The analysis came in a report from the Institute for College Access & Success that outlines another way to assess the value of higher education.

“Current approaches like measuring debt relative to earnings or assessing the earnings premium potential of a postsecondary degree are useful in determining whether individual institutions and academic programs are economically benefiting college graduates,” the report says. “But these approaches have one major limitation: they fail to explicitly center race.”

The Race and Economic Mobility metric takes into account median family income, median earnings and percentage of debt owed for students of color, Black students and Latinx students and then compares those indicators based on the distribution of racially marginalized students at institutions. The trends were similar for Black students and the students of color group but fluctuated for Latinx students.

“The economic conditions disproportionately affecting students of color and colleges serving them result from a history of bad policy choices and underinvestment,” the report says. “And these racist approaches have substantially hindered the educational and economic opportunities of racially marginalized communities. Therefore, any attempt to measure the true value of a college education must explicitly center race.”

TICAS president Sameer Gadkaree said in a statement that the report and other evidence that the organization is collecting show that not every student is getting the same value from their higher education experience.

“As our society becomes more diverse, we need to ensure our higher education system delivers equitable value for students of different racial and economic backgrounds, which will translate to improved economic and mobility outcomes once they enter the workforce,” Gadkaree said.

January 20, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute: Ioakim Boutakidis, professor of child and adolescent studies at California State University, Fullerton, explores how the mental health of males manifests in a school setting. Learn more about the Academic Minute here

January 19, 2023

Presidents of more than two dozen Florida community and four-year state colleges issued a joint statement on Wednesday pledging not to fund or support “initiatives, instruction, and activities” that promote critical race theory or related ideologies.

The presidents represent the 28 colleges that make up the Florida College System. The system’s Council of Presidents intend to ensure efforts at their colleges “do not promote any ideology that suppresses intellectual and academic freedom, freedom of expression, viewpoint diversity, and the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning,” the statement said. “As such, our institutions will not fund or support any institutional practice, policy, or academic requirement that compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality, or the idea that systems of oppression should be the primary lens through which teaching and learning are analyzed and/or improved upon.”

Critical race theory, if discussed in the classroom, will be presented “as one of several theories and in an objective manner,” according to the statement. The presidents also said they would create “environments in which students, faculty, and staff can pursue their academic interests without fear of reprisal or being ‘canceled.’”

The group also “reaffirmed its commitment to nondiscrimination in hiring, onboarding and professional development” as well as “merit, reason, fairness, civil debate, cultivating intellectual autonomy and equality, and evaluating our successes on the achievements of all students.”

The presidents plan to review trainings, instruction and policies on their campuses and remove any that counter the values expressed in the statement by Feb. 1.

January 19, 2023

Arkansas Tech University took down an art exhibit on campus after students complained it was “racially insensitive,” according to KATV, an ABC affiliate based in Little Rock. About 300 students marched in protest of the exhibit on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

A university spokesperson told KATV that the exhibition was taken down at the request of the artist, and the artwork was returned.

According to the president of the university’s African American Student Association, many students were not aware of the work until they returned from winter break. He urged the university to be more careful going forward.

“Seeing it and reviewing the artist statement, it didn’t seem like it belonged here,” he told KATV. “I think they could’ve done better, and I think they’re focusing on protecting the wrong party, and I think they’re focusing on reassuring the wrong party.”

KATV did not describe the exhibit or what students objected to, and the exhibit is not currently listed on the Norman Hall Art Gallery’s website (the 2023 schedule lists January and February’s exhibits as “TBA”). However, a Jan. 12 entertainment roundup in The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette describes an exhibit called “Artifacts” scheduled for display in the gallery through Feb. 28.

January 19, 2023

Nemat “Minouche” Shafik will become the 20th president of Columbia University this year, making her the first woman to lead the institution. She will assume the job on July 1, replacing Lee C. Bollinger.

An Egyptian-born economist, Shafik, 60, has served as president of the London School of Economics and Political Science since 2017. She has also worked as a vice president at the World Bank, a deputy managing director at the International Monetary Fund and deputy governor of the Bank of England.

In a letter to the Columbia community announcing the appointment, Jonathan Lavine, chair of the Board of Trustees, called Shafik “the perfect candidate: a brilliant and able global leader, a community builder, and a preeminent economist who understands the academy and the world beyond it.”

What sets her apart, he said, “is her unshakable confidence in the vital role institutions of higher education can and must play in solving the world’s most complex problems.”

When Shafik takes Columbia’s helm in July, six of the eight Ivy League institutions will be headed by women. She is scheduled to start on the same day that Sian Beilock becomes the first woman president of Dartmouth College and Claudine Gay the first Black president (and second woman) to lead Harvard University. They join Christina Paxson at Brown University, Martha Pollack at Cornell University and M. Elizabeth Magill at the University of Pennsylvania.

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